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The KIT Newsletter is an open forum for fact and opinion. It encourages the expression of all views, both from inside and from outside the Bruderhof. We reserve the right to edit submissions according to guidelines discussed at numerous KIT conferences. Obviously, it's seldom easy to know exactly how best to carry out KIT's mission of allowing many voices and various points of view to be heard. We do not, and cannot, vouch for the validity of any opinion or assertion appearing in the KIT Newsletter. The opinions expressed in the letters that we publish must remain those of the correspondents and do not necessarily reflect those of KIT editors or staff.
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Yearly subscription rates (11 issues): $25 USA; $30 Canada; $35 International mailed f/ USA; £20 mailed f/ EuroKIT to UK & Europe
KEEP IN TOUCH
------ Table of Contents --------
Prof. Denckenlos to Prof. Pavitt
Carol Beels Beck
C. Domer to Elizabeth Bohlken-Zumpe
Hilarion Braun to Paul Fox
Leonard Pavitt - 'Are You Certain?'
Emil Fischli - 'Memoir Part II'
ITEM: Friendly Crossways Tenth Annual KIT Conference dates: August 6-9. Mark your calendars!
Andy Harries, 3/3/99: Just a reminder for any who might have missed it. We are having a get-together at Rookwood School, Andover, on Sunday 2nd of May, meeting between 10:30 & 11.00 AM as near as possible. Will also have a B-B-Q. If people bring some food, we can share it around -- it makes an interesting meal. We have hired the school hall & the grounds. There will be a charge of £3.00 per adult, £5.00 per family, children free. If you have not been here before and are not sure of the way, give us a ring. Tel: 01264 353 800
ITEM: We have received word that the last of the Nigerian brothers are now out of the Bruderhof. Imoh Idiong was sent back to Nigeria. He was at Darvell. They put him on the plane and sent him home. He had been with the Bruderhof for 6 years. According to our source, "The other Nigerian in England ran for his life and was able to escape."
Renatus Kluver, 2/28/99: I always really loved the actual Easter Sunday in Primavera, with the watching of the sunrise and then the Easter celebration of the whole community after the sombre Good Friday, day of mourning. Trying to find the Easter egg nest was always such fun. I did envy the children with the less acrobatic and gymnastically inclined fathers. These fathers always looked for hiding places for their children's nests at ground level. No such luck with the Kluver boys. It seemed to be my father's ambition to find the most difficult places to hide our nests and then to stand there in the middle of the schoolwood football pitch and have this awful smile on his face, which said, "You will get no help from me -- find it yourself."
Often most of the other kids had already found their nests and were munching away happily on the sweets and chocolate, or whatever goodies there were, perhaps peanuts and hard-boiled eggs, or whatever, and I would longingly look at these marvellous items, but could not join in because I still had not found my nest.
In the Ibate' schoolwood was a very tall guayav’ where the first branch was at least seven or eight meters from ground level. In this fork, one Easter, one could clearly see a nest. It was not hidden, but advertised its presence provocatively, nay, shamelessly, because the tree could not be climbed. I then learned through the inevitable grapevine that this nest was mine, after having unsuccessfully looked in all the likely hiding places my father had used in previous years. When I started to look for the ladder, which no doubt my father must have used, I could not find it. My father had hidden that piece of equipment. How to get up that tree then? So I promised various other kids that the one who found the ladder would get some of the contents of my not yet retrieved nest, it they would help me look for the ladder .
The ladder was finally located behind the garden hut, where the crafty man had put some old palm leaf fronds over it to hide it. We triumphantly carried the ladder back into the schoolwood and put it up against the trunk of the tree, but my father tried to stop us. At this point my mother intervened and told him, that he could not stop me using the adder, since he had used it himself. So I got my nest and duly paid the kid off who had found the ladder. For years here in England, my sister Reinhild made Easter nests for her children and then we would take them to the nearest park and there hide them. They were treated with a little positive Bruderhof history and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think that the Holland family still holds to this tradition as well, and do an 'Easter-egg-rolling' competition down a very steep hill. The last egg to crack its shell is the winner of this competition. Anyhow, this is supposed to be just a short contribution. God's blessing to you all at this special Christian festival of renewal and redemption. Easter Greetings to you all,
Loy McWhirter, 3/13/99: It was wonderful to read Migg Fischli's memories of Primavera and have the photos alongside. It's the good help of knowledge without excuse that the people who were adults in Primavera have to offer those whose childhood is grounded -- and in some cases buried -- in that place and time. It seems to me to return some of what has been lost to us of a life and time that was out of this world in so many ways. Thank you for printing it, and thank you, Migg Fischli, for writing -- and Susanna for translating it.
It is strange and lonely and isolating to have come up through that life and all it holds, and then to see it gone from the present world we are refugees in, as it sometimes seems to me. It is such an uncommon experience. Those elder people who made that life and those choices can have no idea. They all came from other places of shared experience in the wider world. I wish Primavera were still there, as it was for us who were made in it. Then it would not seem so imaginary from here. But having such wise and straightforward overviews without the denials and rationalizing is a wondrous gift. Thank you,
Prof. Denckenlos to Leonard Pavitt (excerpted from a 1998 letter): In answer to your question regarding the problem of people in the Klapsmuhlher Kommunity falling asleep during sermons, this is not a new phenomenon. It was thought that 'Flagellentes' used to beat themselves solely to mortify the flesh but this was a later trend. Research has shown that the name 'Flagellante' was originally given those unfortunate people who were driven to use this practise in a desperate attempt to keep awake during sermons.
The point I mentioned quite a while ago about The Welder having difficulty making his voice heard above the noise of the clatter of needles from those knitting to keep awake during the Church Hours, has been solved by using rubber-covered needles. The Welder is very happy with this solution and often quotes the case of a Brother who formerly slept solidly through all his sermons, but is now so engrossed listening to the pearls of wisdom cascading from The Welder's lips that he has, on numerous occasions, knitted a sock up to two metres or more in length. I was invited to witness this 'engrossed Brother' knitting away during one of the Church Hours when The Welder was in full swing and noticed that although the Brother had his eyes open, he stared straight ahead, unblinking, with an emotionless expression on his face. Of itself this would not have been remarkable as most of the other listeners also looked like this, but when he had to be shaken vigorously to stop him knitting at the end of the sermon, it gave me pause for thought. A doctor friend of mine to whom I described this said he was sure the Brother was knitting in his sleep, adding that it is a well documented, if relatively rare, condition known to the medical profession as N.M.S. (Non Mobile Sleepwalking).
I have made the point, in my earliest letters to you, that I thought The Welder was religiously narrow-minded. But having read some of his recently published books I think I detect his wider interest in Eastern religion as his thinking seems to be strongly under the influence of Confusionism.
Regarding the unfortunate episode when that young man went roller-blading at Klapsmuhler Kommunity and they called the police. I asked one of the more outspoken of the American youngsters, whom I have got to know, if he would have dealt with the roller-blader in this manner. "Naw", he drawled, "I'd have kicked his ass."
Being a language teacher, I was intrigued to hear him use the old biblical word 'ass' instead of donkey and wondered if this might have been handed down from the early farmer-settlers of the Mid-West Bible Belt whose speech appears to have contained many biblical expressions. They commonly rode donkeys and mules and maybe it was then customary to show unwanted visitors that they were not welcome by kicking out at their donkey or mule.
The Klaspmuhler Gazette, aware of the warm relationship between The Welder and the Pope, have not only recommended to the Pope that The Welder be canonized but have even offered to supply a heavy calibre cannon for the ceremony.
Wolfgang Loewenthal, 3/9/99: Yesterday we received the February issue of KIT, and as always it was eagerly devoured on the same day. I especially enjoyed Migg Fischli's long account of the early days of Primavera.
I remember vividly digging the first well in Primavera with Migg. He did not mention that when the well was 14 meters deep, I fell in and lived to tell about it. I would like to make two small corrections to Migg's account:
The acreage of Primavera was not 30,000 hectares, but 8,000 (20,000 acres). I know this for sure since I helped with the surveying and at that time drew a map which I still have. The approximate dimensions were 9 x 9 km = 81 sq. km = 8,000 hectares.
The other correction is that the lake near Asuncion is Ypacara’ (not Sapucay). Sapucay is the name of the leper colony in Paraguay where Heini worked for almost one year after he and his brothers were excluded by the brotherhood. I fully agree with Migg that these exclusions, euphemistically called "church discipline," were harsh and inhuman, but you can, if you will, find biblical justification for it. Greetings,
Sam Arnold, 2/20/99: It appears more and more that the nouns 'Bruderhof' and 'lawyers' nowadays go together like hand and glove. Here is another indication that the image of the Bruderhof is not that of a devout religious sect practicing Anabaptist faith, but rather, a business sect making deals wherever it can do so. It is the Bruderhof's religious appearance that gives them leverage and benefits over their secular competition. One wonders if the members are aware how much money is being spent on lawyers, and also if the concept of lawyers has now been altered to be seen by the members as being necessary and even desirable for the Bruderhof to survive and to flourish.
While the B'hof purse appears to be open to buy and sell properties, even in far away Australia, the members themselves are expected to work harder and to scrimp on many of the basic amenities. Turning down the heat and taking cold showers is one example. Poor quality food is another. Meanwhile the leaders are flying around the world in the Learjet, making deals in Australia or wherever.
Is the Bruderhof moving further abroad in order to diversify their earnings, or are they trying to escape from their detractors (us), or both? Either way they are taking a very big gamble!
Regarding Law versus Love, CD and JK have made it quite clear that when dealing with us "outies" and the rest of the outside world they are relying on the rule of law to assist them. It is also understood that the "innies" are still subject to the "rule of love," which is infinitely more harsh and unpredictable when applied.
When we lived on the B'hof we were also governed by "love," and even after we had left, a part of us still anticipated being treated that way by the Bruderhof, because that is the way we understood the operation within the Bruderhof. It is a great relief to be free of Bruderhof love, but that also means that our relationships with family on the B'hof are very much affected by this change due to the duality of the two systems: love for them and law for us.
When someone is punished "out of love" it means that they broke an unwritten law that the servants feel now needs to be addressed. Punishment is not applied consistently to all. Thus they keep control by keeping every member on edge and wary of exclusion and such. I would much rather take my chances on the law. At least I have the right to defend myself, which with "love" I do not.
Barnabas Johnson, 3/22/99: Sam writes, "One wonders if the members are aware... [that] the concept of lawyers has now been altered to be seen by the members as being necessary and even desirable for the Bruderhof to survive and to flourish."
For the record, I believe that the single most significant dysfunctionality in the Bruderhof was and remains its contempt for law (properly understood), its institutional incapacity to comprehend the value of the rule of law, and its slavish acceptance of the idiotic biblical "false dichotomy" between love and law, between good in the abstract and "good governance" in the nitty-gritty real world which, evolving, has in fact learned a thing or two ... including the value of government by law rather than by a self-constituted Priesthood of Godly Certitude -- the latter being precisely the "World of Caesar" that constitutional democracy based on participatory governance and the rule of law has made so much progress during the past two millenniums to evolve beyond. Dictators, a state religion, and all that undergird this boringly-familiar abomination, constitutes "Heini's World" pure and simple and ... flawed as ever. "There is no law but love" says the First Law of Sannerz. False dichotomies are the bane of this world. De-dichotomize the future, and you might have one worth living in, and loving. If you think there was a Golden Age of Wisdom two thousand years ago regarding how to make and keep a healthy, peaceful society, fine -- but don't try to construct a society based thereon, or you'll re-create the Bruderhof!
I was fascinated to learn that the "giant stride" (Rund lauf) in Isla was made from Case tractor parts. This play equipment was composed of a "wheel mounted atop a strong (high, I might add) post, with twelve chainsÉ" Each chain ended with a small, wooden handle to which the children held as they alternately ran and rode around in merry-go-round fashion.
The "real" fun did not begin until the teacher or "Hortner" was out of sight. It was then that we did several things to increase the height, speed, and the danger of our ride. One way to do this was to increase the distance at which one stood from the center post. Another, my favorite, consisted of lagging behind other runners. A third consisted of twisting the chain, thereby shortening it's length. A fourth was to run an elliptic pattern. All of these "tricks" greatly increased the fun and the danger involved. On several occasions, when a child could not withstand the centrifugal force generated by these tricks, an "accident" happened and the Hortner's return once again diminished the danger (and the thrill). Thank you, Migg!
Thanks goes to David Goodwin for publishing material related to his attempts at reconciliation. I appreciate the non-confrontational manner, humility and the good will that are evident in his efforts to bridge the gap that divides him from the Bruderhof. Establishing trust is an urgent matter for any future dialog and healing. A basis is needed. David, you wrote, "I am thankful that I never became entangled with Bruderhof membership if, as a result, I would have to defend, agree with, support, or participate in the kind of action I witnessed." Your observation that "True peace can be found in giving or accepting the opposition that God may lead us into" is helpful.
And finally, you make comments about Hans Zumpe. Hans' painful attempts at seeking forgiveness underscore the need for grace in our dealings with one another. Philip Yancey's book What's So Amazing About Grace? (Chapter 4 "Lovesick Father") is worthwhile reading. I long for the day when the Bruderhof Brotherhood will see its errors and seek forgiveness for ungracious conduct toward a repentant Hans.
Leonard Pavitt's "Thinking Aloud" reminds me of a recent article appearing in the March issue of "Christian Living." Author Steven Nolt asks, "Would Eberhard Arnold join the Bruderhof today?" Eberhard is quoted as saying of the Hutterites that they were like "a grandchild of AnabaptismÉ But grandchildren, though resembling the grandparents, are far from being like them." These words have an eerie, contemporary ring to them when applied to the Bruderhof of today. The joyful, spontaneous, "unstructured movement" of the early days has become a "second generation institution" in which "centralized authority and efficient bureaucracy maintain and administer the Brudherhof's ideals."
Leonard's "Thinking" reminds me that each new generation must find faith in Christ in its own time and setting. Faith in Christ can not be institutionalized! Though I personally cherish the joys and the traditions of the Primavera years, they can not sustain my faith nor the faith of my children. If the grandchild appears different from the grandfather, one hopes nonetheless that core issue of faith and practice remain essentially unchanged. How could it be otherwise?
Would Eberhard Arnold join the Bruderhof today? I think he would weep.
A little story about the Easter Hare is in order. But first, don't ever confuse The Easter Hare with the Easter Bunny!
It was Spring 1975. I had determined to leave the Hof and was making job inquiries. The Steward, Welton, let me have a car for this purpose. Klaus Meier, with whom I had a good relationship, was unhappy with this turn of events. So was I. "You should be the Easter Hare," he suggested hopefully. "That would be the first time you ever had a deaf Hare visit the Hof," I responded lightly. "What would happen if a child snuck up behind me and somehow found out that this one was a deaf Hare?"
I joined Julian Scott being Easter Hares on that warm spring day. A bit self-conscious about this "responsible" task and dreading the possibility of ruining a child's innocence, I made sure that I was always well ahead of the children and never within earshot of the smaller ones. Soon thereafter, I entered the "outside" world of work, money and Easter Bunnies.
Mike Beck, 2/20/99: Dear Folks, I'm exercising my right to write in KIT on the grounds that I'm married to an ex-bruderhofer! On Christmas morning, Carol and I were enjoying the Christmas spirit, in our case finding the time to read something special together in between cooking the Christmas dinner. I had been reading an article called 'The Shadow in Christianity' by David Steindl-Rast to Carol and, and after digesting it and discussing it, we thought we'd open our Christmas presents, including the book sent by Carol's parents. Before opening it, we joked what it might be. Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections perhaps. or What Freud Really Said. We were right in thinking that it was, of course, a copy of Christoph's new book, Seeking Peace. What caught my eye was that one of those who were promoting the book was -- you've guessed it -- David Steindl-Rast.
I must confess that I have not yet read Christoph's book. A first perusal is encouraging and it's waiting its turn along with others on my list. I'm looking forward to reading it with Carol.
The other day Carol told me that she was approached in Portsmouth city centre having a pamphlet put into her hands advertising, you've guessed it, Christoph's even-newer book, The Lost Art Of Forgiving. Those promoting the book didn't include Mr. Steindl-Rast but, rather astonishingly at least to me anyway, such Greats as Mandala and Castro. I must admit that I hadn't realized that Christoph was such a 'big hitter.' Very impressive!
Just to go back to my original book that I mentioned, Meeting the Shadow, and Mr. Steindl-Rast's article, the basic message of this book is that we live in a world of inexorable opposites, i.e. light and dark, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil, etc., and that we can evolve more progressively if we can realize that 'wholeness' is more important than 'goodness.' All of us want to develop our spiritual selves, all of us want to reach for the light. However, we cannot have 'good without bad' no more than we can have 'light without dark.' Arguably, it's unhealthy when we identify ourselves with only one 'pole,' namely good, as this makes the psyche dangerously one-sided. Thus the work of all of us do to embrace all the opposites within ourselves without trying to dismiss that which we would prefer to disown and reject as 'sin.' Facing and owning some of these parts is a painful process because we are having to face awkward aspects of our nature that we have rejected due to moral, and socio-cultural considerations. I think that those who were brought up in the Bruderhof would have had a particularly difficult time of it -- and those who remain there even more so.
It's interesting that the Bruderhof is 'marketing' Christoph as though he were their main asset. Without being patronizing to Christoph (I feel sure that he has a strong spiritual side), but this is the same man who tricked Ramon, luring him into a location on false pretenses in order to serve a legal writ on him (or at least condoned this act).
I've not yet met Christoph, although I hope one day to do so when the thaw in relations eventually comes, along with others I have had the pleasure in already meeting, including Carol's relatives. When, and if I do meet Christoph, I'd be happy to meet him as one ordinary person to another. I think I would like Christoph more, though, if he didn't feel a need to be putting himself forward as this 'great counsellor'. For me, 'Wholeness' is a lot better than 'Goodness.' Yours,
Carol Beels Beck, 3/11/99: I went on a three hour workshop yesterday and found it very meaningful For those that may not have come across this and are interested, "Attitudinal Healing" is the process of releasing our fears so that we can experience our natural state, which is to be loving and peaceful. As we choose to change our fearful attitudes, we are free to let go of the past and to live in the moment, to forgive ourselves and others, to feel our connectedness with others, and to feel loved.
The healed mind trusts that the world is governed by a power in it but not of it; that power is love, the most important healing power in the world. And that power will guide us to the extent that we trust it and remember to call upon it.
If you are interested in learning more -- courses and resources: The Network for Attitudinal Healing International, P.O. Box 390129, Kailua-Kona, HI 96739, U.S.A. Phone: 001 888 222-7205. E-mail: NetAttHeal@ aol.com Or website at http://www.attitudinalhealing.org/
Elizabeth Bohlken-Zumpe, 3/15/99: It was my mother Emi-Ma's birthdayon March 10th, and she was 88 this year. I have not seen her since the summer of 1986 when she came on a surprise visit to Ameland from the Michaelshof. Hans was away for Red Cross work and at the time I just didn't know if I should be happy or sad. Such surprises tend to hurt also, because we are never allowed to surprise them "out of love." But it was good to see her, although we had little time alone because my brother Ben and my sister Emmy never left us for a minute.
All this is now 13 years ago and I do not think I will ever see my mother again. In a strange way, this does not even matter to me any more as we no longer speak the same language and feel the same joys and pains. They are so completely brainwashed into feelings that are allowed and feelings that are forbidden, that it is much better to remember the times when we were still close and able to talk about any and everything. The same is true for my brothers and sisters. Fighting to see them is absolutely pointless unless they feel the urge to set things right.
Our family here in Holland was hurt a lot by the Bruderhof. Hans, my husband, only met my mother once for a few hours and we have been married now for 36 years -- I have really done my utmost to find a relationship of mutual respect and love. I wrote to the Bruderhof many times, and to Heini -- later Christoph and others -- but it is useless. Therefore I feel, 'Let us not be hurt by them but count our blessings by all that was given to us and all the love we receive from a different source!'
True friendship -- true love -- is something that never leaves you when you are in trouble, sick or a little muddled in your mind. True love is just there without words or big gestures -- just simply there to help you along the path of life! I have been very lucky in life to have so much of all these wonderful things. Hans is the best husband anyone can have. He taught me to stand on my own two feet, to see the beams of the sun instead of chasing the shadows. Our children and grandchildren have a lot of Hans, sober and down-to-earth while at the same time they know how to express feelings and love and sympathy. I have a lot to be thankful for!
The March KIT newsletter was good. I especially enjoyed the most interesting "Strange Meetings" by David Goodwin. He puts into a nutshell (a big one!) what I feel. As long as the Bruderhof sees us as a threat -- that we are up to some "evil conspiracy" when we visit their area, as long as there is absolutely no trust, love or respect for any of us, we should not and cannot expect reconciliation with them! All we can do is help those that are kicked out into a world they do not understand, listen to each other and have joy and peace in the relationship with each other. We all come from the same "nest," so to speak, so we do understand each other's fears, pains and maybe dreams. I think all of us KITfolks would love a better relationship with our families and friends on the Bruderhof, but maybe it is time to count our blessings by being "led through" the Bruderhof into the world at large. Maybe our vision will help us to see the little needs that are brought to our doorstep rather than wanting to "change the whole world" by such a (maybe arrogant conception) as to build God's Kingdom on earth! To have a little peace and love around us, in our families and amongst our neighbors and friends, is actually about all we can achieve in our lifetime, I think.
I am also very glad that Migg's story has been translated by Susanna, his daughter, for everyone to read. He gave me a German copy and I very much enjoyed reading his experiences within the Bruderhof communities. He, the same as all the "senior members,' really left everything behind to follow the call he felt coming from Jesus Christ to live a life of peace during the horrible World War II. They gave their lives to this cause without wanting power and worship from men -- and we children felt this love and faith!
I am quite sure that, from the beginning, the seed of evil was there as well. How could it be different? Our life is in this world and for this world, and fighting this evil is what makes life worthwhile and wonderful! We should not try and find fault with those who started the Community. I feel that they gave as much as they saw at the time! Last night we had a program on TV about the general 'dictatorial' attitude of most leaders in the early years of this century. People like orchestra conductors really had the performers under absolute control in a way that is unthinkable today. Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy, demanded complete obedience from his followers, German fathers demanded complete unquestioned obedience from their children, and most churches wanted complete control over their members. It was during this era that the Bruderhof started with good-willing and faithful people, but they came from this same authoritarian background.
It was also during this era that fascism found enough soil to flourish and the Nazi party was able to take over Germany with all the horrors of that time. I think we should try and see more of the good that came to us through brave people who stood against Hitler's power and were willing to leave everything behind them to follow what they felt was their true calling. It is our parents I am talking about. I am sure my grandfather and grandmother, my parents and other KIT people's parents made mistakes and had faults, but they wanted to live for love and unity at the expense of losing their own identity. We should respect this rather than criticize their lives. The Bruderhof today should be criticized because they have left the road of "peace for all men" and see even the splinters in our eyes while blinded by their own "rafters and beams" in their own eyes! We should and must let our voices be heard when we hear of these matters.
I am also glad that several people like Sam Arnold and Andy Harries actually responded to the mean letters written by Joe Keiderling to Oxford University Press! That is what we should keep on doing! I am so truly thankful for KIT and all these years of get-togethers and contacts! Without KIT we would never have found each other! I did not even have addresses for my relatives like Muschie, Sam and Ernst. We are so deeply indoctrinated not to contact others that we just didn't. So a big thank you for the KITletters and books, Ramon! I would not know how to really thank you enough for this. Another matter is the question of healing. I am not sure what people expect but I, for my part, feel that once you really feel thankful for what you have and put your life in God's big hands, healing is almost a natural consequence. I do not feel burdened or "in need of healing." I do feel sad at times, but why shouldn't I? I do not really believe in Co-counseling and all the other methods of dealing with the past. I like to look towards the future with curiosity and with hope for something really new! Luckily we are not all alike and have different needs, and I accept that. But I do think we should all try and feel positive about the future!
That must be all for now. We celebrated my birthday for almost four days, even though it is not a special 'crown year.' Children, grandchildren, and many friends and neighbors made it a very special day for me and also for Hans. Much love to all our many friends, 3/27/99: We returned home to Drachten last night after a week in our house on the island Ameland. We had wonderful spring weather and did our best to clean the house and garden. I have enjoyed the March KIT and thank you and your San Francisco team for the continued efforts of bringing out a letter each month! Quite an achievement, which we appreciate a great deal!
On my return last night I found this relatively "cordial" letter from Christian Domer:
Christian Domer to Elizabeth Bohlken-Zumpe, 3/18/99: I note with astonishment your contribution to the March 1999 KIT Newsletter, Vol. XI, #3, dated February 7th, in which you say, "I have checked with all the Rhoen Bruderhof and Sannerz sources about The First Law in Sannerz and it just was not there." You then go on to attempt to rewrite history as you have so many times in the past, explaining the origin of The First Law in Sannerz and insinuating that it was through ill intent by Heini Arnold.
Please let me advise you that we at the Bruderhof have checked with our sources, which by the way are hundreds if not thousands of times more complete and exhaustive than your sources, and are all the original sources which have been kept since the founding of the Bruderhof. The facts are that the Bruderhof members, with Eberhard Arnold, formulated The First Law in Sannerz in August, 1923 when Heini was 12 years old. Bette, your efforts at rewriting Bruderhof history and continually attempting to "inform the public" of the truth of our history and the facts continue to prove to us that you simply are ignorant of the majority of the facts and continue to attempt to slander and malign the Bruderhof and certain of its members in an attempt to paint the picture the way you would wish it to be portrayed.
Please resist this temptation in the future, as you are only displaying your complete ignorance and continued malice. Please feel free to give me a call if you would like to discuss this in more detail.
Wishing you a blessed Easter. Respectfully,
Elizabeth Bohlken-Zumpe: Christian's letter saddens me more than it maddens me, that the Bruderhof seems to continue to mislead their members. I am not saying anywhere that my grandfather was not very much against 'talking behind people's backs' -- he felt that open confrontation with all brothers and sisters was always the best way to get any conflict cleared up before it turned into 'a crisis,' as they say on the Bruderhof.
I have had personal talks with Bruce Sumner who came to the Rhoen Bruderhof in 1933 and knew and respected my grandparents as well as all the community. He married Luise, one of the children taken in at Sannerz in the early 1920s. I have also spoken with Migg Fischli, who met my grandparents as early as 1932 in Switzerland and joined the Community in 1935 as an 18-year-old, Erna Friedemann who came to the Bruderhof in 1930 as a 12-year-old and spent a lot of time in my family, and Werner Friedemann who joined the Rhoen Bruderhof in 1935. All of them say the same thing: "We have never seen a written First Law in Sannerz! There was no written law anywhere!"
I am not trying to "rewrite Bruderhof history" as Domer seems to suggest, but it is important to realize that members of the Bruderhof today are so frightened to "comment or criticise" any action of their leaders due to the demand that they feel is made in the First Law in Sannerz that they keep their mouths shut, even if they see wrongs or evil deeds in their midst. Maybe it should be known, also, that Heini as a 12-year-old founded "The Sonnentrup" which was a children's community within the larger community. In this Sonnentrup (sun troupe) he was the leader, and included and excluded as he felt led by his personal as well as inner conviction. He also "saw" things no one else saw, like angels in the woods and evil spirits in the form of "little black puppies" running away from a just-baptized new member called Lotte Henze. Maybe he wrote such a 'law' for his Sonnentrup. I would not know about that, but most certainly it was not a 'law' that all members had to accept and be reminded of daily, and it was not posted on the walls of different work departments.
I grew up on the Bruderhof, like most of the KITfolk, and in my childhood from 1935 until I left in 1961 this 'law' was not known. I don't even know what it says, as I have never seen it or heard about it. It must have been brought in after the Big Crisis in the 1960s when all member had to promise loyalty to their leader Heini Arnold in an attempt "to keep the flock following their shepherd" without criticism and in complete trust. This 'trust' can be the source of a lot of inner conflict in members who stop listening to their own conscience and their own judgment of a particular situation. This is exactly when a brotherly life of unity and love turns into a cult in which all members stand behind their leader whether he is right or wrong, "to protect him, love him, swear loyalty at all times to do what he wants them to do in fear and trembling of losing sight of the true faith!"
That is why I have written about The First Law in Sannerz! It is dangerous to kill one's personal instincts. If we really put out lives into God's hands, we will have the courage to speak up and correct each other, whether the person is a leader or a 'plain' brother. In the sight of God we are all infinitely small creatures. If we put all our trust in the leader, then we actually betray Jesus miserably, as Judas did, We will selfishly use the love of Christ Jesus to betray both him and ourselves. I was a convinced member of the Bruderhof and that is why this hero worship makes me sick.
The Bruderhof is such a small group -- never more than some two thousand people, counting the children. How can they be so conceited about being so special in their chosen way of life? They have hurt so many people, so many of their own children! They have split up families, using the bible's text, "Therefore you shall leave your father and mother, daughter and son, to follow me..." This is pure misuse of the gospels, because the gospels say everywhere, "The first thing is Love, with love and out of love we will always find a way together!" I think we should look with our hearts into the faces of the men we trust when they promise they will lead us to God, and we will see their vulnerability and how often they use their ministry for power and to enrich themselves with earthly goods.
That is why I want to make it clear that the beginning of the Bruderhof was built on love, trust and faith, and an eagerness to listen to each other when difficult decisions had to be made. The small group was convinced that "if two or three are gathered in my name that I will be amongst you and will lead you." This was very true of the life in the Rhoen Bruderhof, Alm Bruderhof, Cotswold Bruderhof and then in Primavera. We children knew this and felt this.
Today we are very much concerned with the situation in Slovakia. Although we have been following the happenings in Kosovo for years now, and even though I am sure Holbrook did his best to find a politically acceptable agreement for Milosevic to sign, the bombing of the past days has only made the situation worse and maybe brings us right into World War III! I hope this will not happen, but when you watch the news on TV, it looks pretty grim on all sides. Much love to each one of our friends,
Hilarion Braun to Paul Fox, 3/1/99: Dear Paul, thanks for your response [see the March KIT, p. 3] in which you assumed I had misused the term 'Christendom.' I had specifically used that term to mean a society/country dominated by a large majority of Christians, as for example Italy and Ireland.
Then I reasoned that if Ireland and Italy do not differ substantially from secular states, such as for example Denmark, then Christendom would have been a historical failure. Obviously if one believes that Christianity relates mostly to personal salvation, and that that salvation requires a statement of faith rather than an active demonstration of charity, honesty, peacefulness and service, then it follows that Christendom has not failed.
Another experimental observation of mine is the daily behavior of Born Again types at my workplaces. In general they listen to Rush Limbaugh and repeat most of his lies with a fanatic self-righteousness that is surprising when one considers that these types profess to be Christians. I do believe it is worthwhile to ask why this is so, and to see if there really is a biblical basis for it and what it really means to be Christian. Since there are so many contradictory sects, all claiming to be Christian, it ought to be an interesting study to find out how such dichotomies evolve. 3/10/99: The March issue of KIT was great! Finally the stupid First Law of Sannerz is exposed as a Heini invention! Only a coward needs that! All of the reports on attempted dialogue with the Bruderhof clearly show that dialogue with the Bruderhof is impossible. I think that the extreme stress of fighting to be nothing on the Bruderhof leads to a state of reflexes rather than contemplation.
It is impossible to have an active mind and spirit when the restrictions of what one may be are as severe as they are on the Bruderhof. I still am unable to be truly proud of my work, etc., the way my colleagues are. I find it almost obscene. My childhood influences are so deeply ingrained, and I can feel totally for the Bruderhof members who must see us as not only a threat but also as lost souls. I was very much 'there' once, and can still remember very well the passion with which I tried to 'believe.' When you spend all the time of your life fighting evil, you have no time to love, to doubt and to risk. When your entire being is strained so deeply that a smile directed at you by a servant is like sunshine, then you cannot think rationally. You are fundamentally in a state of absolute spiritual exhaustion, longing to be free of 'evil.' As Niebuhr said, "Frantic Orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are not sure that we are doubly sure."
The present Bruderhof is different mostly in the direct adoration of Johann Christoph Arnold, and previously Heini. The rest of the newer manifestations are merely cosmetic rather than fundamental. One needs only to read Belinda's book to see that the entrenched 'group psychosis' was alive and well in early times.
"Are You Certain...? "
by Leonard Pavitt
I have become quite intrigued by the question as to why people feel they have to be 'right' and the strange things that their certainty has led them to indulge in and, my word, they are very extraordinary and sometimes lethal. Perhaps more of that another time).
One thing these people seem to have in common is the unshakable belief that they, and they only, are 'right.' I should perhaps make it clear that I am not against 'the religious' as such any more than I am against 'the psychiatrist or psychoanalyst' as such, or the 'wise man' or 'sage.' For instance, I felt a real warmth toward a certain Taoist Master mentioned in a recent TV interview. The person being interviewed told how when he was in a group of would-be disciples in a Taoist Monastery in China, one of them asked the Master, "What happens to us when we die?".
"I don't know," he replied.
"But you are a Master!" said the man, with great astonishment.
"Yes" said The Master. "But not a dead one."
No, I am against the 'know-all' (which that Master certainly wasn't) of whatever belief or school of thought he may follow -- the ones who pontificate to others, diagnose their troubles and show the 'true way' out of them with great certainty and inaccuracy.
Why are people afraid to doubt? With the religious, it is even a 'sin' to doubt, and many people, it seems, spend a great deal of energy and most of their life struggling against it. Is it because they feel they must have certainty at all costs? Can't they stand the thought of going through life, to quote the writer Lin Yutang, "as one who starts out with this earthly life as all we can or need bother about, wishes to live intently and happily as long as his life lasts, often has a sense of the poignant sadness of life and faces it cheerily, has a keen appreciation of the beautiful and good in human life wherever he finds them, and regards doing good as its own satisfactory reward... one who dreams with one eye open, who views life with love and sweet irony and who mixes his cynicism with a kindly tolerance." Is it because they can't see life in this way that they flock to anyone who appears to have found 'absolute certainty?'
Maybe it is only the ones who are so certain that we get to hear about, perhaps because we are more inclined to notice the noisier, dogmatic ones. The more certain they become 'proclaiming the message,' religious or secular, to the unredeemed or the ignorant, the noisier they get and the more difficult it is to understand them. I suppose there are those who do actually understand, or think they understand and are 100% convinced, but it also seems that there are those who don't actually understand 'the message' but are so overawed by the wonder of its impenetrable complexity that they convince themselves that something so deeply and wonderfully confusing is obviously the work of a supernaturally endowed person, and they too are also 100% convinced. This possibility was realised by the poet Walter de la Mare when he wrote, "If one can make it difficult to grasp what one is writing, t'will breed, perhaps, a privy Cult who'll find it most exciting" -- although sometimes I wonder whether the loud noise that some believers make may be hiding a deep, unacknowledged uncertainty rather like someone singing loudly when out in the dark alone.
When one considers the teeming millions on our planet, does the greater noise made by the more 'certain,' more voluble ones, hide the fact that they are actually a small minority? Perhaps there is a vast mass of reasonably happy 'uncertain' folk who has no cast-iron, clearly-worked-out set of rules, beliefs, dogmas, schools of thought, doctrines, philosophies, call them what you will. This mass of people has no nice, tidy, watertight set of beliefs that it feels impelled to persuade others to accept in order to get more people to think and believe as it does (so that it can feel more certain that its way is the 'right way.') This vast mass of ordinary folk may have in mind nothing more sophisticated than a simple realisation that the way to live is to make the best out of what life, with all its diversity, its good times and bad, its sunshine and storms, may have in store.
"Goodness gracious!" says the sophisticated know-all. "You can't go through life like that. Life is tremendously complicated! Think of all the books written by all those people about how complex it all is, and how wonderful the author is to have found the way." And all the religions and their myriad sects and all the different 'schools of thought' and their myriad sects are all busy beavering away, churning out volume after volume to the great delight of the publishers -- and dismay of those who want to protect our forests.
I wouldn't like to give the impression that I look down on my fellow eccentrics, but I do deplore the fact that the religious ones insist on claiming their eccentric ideas to be "Divinely Inspired." They thus imply that the Divine One who inspires them is as mentally disadvantaged as they appear to be. Somehow I don't think the Divine One can be too pleased about that, and may well feel Divinely Inspired to show deep displeasure to them on the Day of Reckoning.
Memoirs (Part II - 1952-1961)
by Emil Fischli
Translated from the German by Susanna Alves Levy
Apart from my job at the sawmill, I was also a work distributor. This meant that it was down to me to coordinate and ensure the smooth running of our many-sided, closely knit male workforce. Our brotherly life called for voluntary obedience, or obedient volunteers. Both attitudes were more or less expected, yet neither slavish submission nor self-seeking freedom was meant by it. As a consequence, my task was not to give orders, but to encourage, to suggest, to coax. Each work department had its own foreman, who in turn was responsible for the coordination of his team of men.
The women had a female work distributor. Her job was to determine and organise the staffing of baby-house and toddlers' department, kindergarten, sewing rooms, laundry and kitchen. She chose the female teachers and childminders, nurses and laboratory team, in short, she distributed among the women all those jobs that were best done by women. She did not follow strict rules, but distributed the jobs according to suitability and gifts.
At times, men were asked to put in time also in some of the women's departments. That applied, for example, to the kindergarten watch duties during siesta. I took turns too, once a week, in this task. After their midday meal, the three to seven-year olds usually helped set up their plank beds around the large room. Each child settled down on its bed after first visiting the outdoor loos. The strategy was to place the chatterboxes between two quieter ones. I usually spoke a few calming words to my charges, interrupted by loud artificial yawns. Quiet soon settled. I too lay down on one of the long wooden benches, as an example to be followed, with closed eyes but open ears. Occasionally, though, I did drop off -- I do not know about any snoring. As soon as the bell by the dining hall rang, signalling the end of siesta, they all immediately woke up. Beds were quickly stacked back in their corners and they all disbanded, running home happily for vespers.
Families spent vespers together until just before three o'clock. There was tea, and bread slices spread with lard. Butter was an unknown luxury for the children. The sweet bread-spread was usually sugarcane syrup. At the start of the week it tended to be thin and runny in the tin in which it arrived from the Kastner, the food distributor. It was difficult to spread, as it dripped and ran off the bread slices. By the end of the week it had semi-crystallised and thickened, and could be spread much more easily. We did get honey now and then. Our bee-keepers kept more than a hundred beehives. In springtime, the bees brought in nectar by the ton. On birthdays a whole honeycomb appeared on the table as a special treat. The dripping pieces disappeared fast in the eager mouths, the well-chewed wax then collected and taken back to the bee-keepers, to be used for further honeycomb molds.
But back to the work distribution and coordination: At least once a week, usually on a Friday, the Servants of the Word, housemother and work distributors met to discuss all sorts of organisational matters, any exceptional problems, and the allocation of jobs for the upcoming Sunday. The departments considered as the most vital, such as hospital, the minding of our school children, the younger children's departments, kitchen, cow stall, steam engine (for the pumping of water), washing-up duties, food distribution in the dining hall, all these duties should be shared out as fairly as possible, with everyone taking a turn. This could cause some headache, as not everybody was suitable for each job. Once the list -- usually long and quite complicated -- had been agreed, it was displayed, usually by Friday lunch-time, hanging next to the dining hall entrance for everyone to see. If any changes were required, these could then still be made.
After the birth of Hansli, Hilde and I thought that with five children, our family was quite large enough. So we were assiduous in practising abstinence. The contraceptive pill had not yet been invented, and other preventive measures were incompatible with our beliefs. Despite our tremendous efforts, we were constantly only too aware of how 'the flesh is weak', and as a consequence, a new family addition arrived on the 5th of October 1949. It was little Hildegard Elsa Marie. We named her after her mother and two grandmothers. As far as I know, these names are the only thing that we have knowingly passed on down the generation chain. Where we had no control, fortunately, was over character features, talents, deficiencies and dispositions. Whatever such endowments there were, these were to be nurtured or grappled with by each child individually.
Else-Maria was blessed with a rather fiery temperament. She, and one little boy, had it in for each other. As a toddler, she had just learned how to use the potty. There she was, surrounded by five or six other toddlers, who were busy doing their potty business. This seemingly was the moment of choice. The Sisters in charge had trouble keeping the two apart. Without obvious reason they were drawn to each other like magnets, tearing at each other like fierce little animals, screaming at the top of their voices. When they were pulled apart, their little sweaty hands were plastered with each other's hair, fingers and arms baring the signs of sharp little teeth and nails. Still, as time went by, emotions grew calmer, and eventually they learned to live side-by-side in peace. Three decades on and they both still have vivid memories of those fights.
We called her Schaetzi [little treasure], but once she reached school age, that had to change. She had to stand up to the boys, of course. Judging from her tomboyish activities, that's what she should have been. She was never interested in playing with dolls. Happiness for her was running, gymnastics, climbing. When I arrived home after work, she usually came running to meet me. I placed my hand horizontally, palm upturned, against my back at the height of my waist. She used it as a step, swinging herself up on my back, coming to sit on my shoulders in one fluid movement. For her birthday she wanted a horizontal bar for her gymnastics, and she got it. She could now do her acrobatics to her heart's desire. Not even her brothers managed to keep pace with her pull-ups. A palm tree with ripe palm fruit was a challenge she loved. She hoisted herself up, straddling the trunk like a monkey, climbing to dizzying heights. While she held on with one hand, unconcerned with matters such as safety, she picked the fruit with the other.
There were two kinds of palm trees: The pindo with its yellow-orange, oval shaped fruit that had no shell, while the coco had round dark-green fruit the size of table tennis balls, covered in a thin brittle shell. This was easy to cut through with the teeth. Below it was soft, yellow, oily-sweet flesh. The children loved eating these nuts, pushing the balls endlessly around in their mouths. So did the cattle, who enjoyed them too. In the centre of the fruit was a kernel enclosed in a very hard shell. The core was rich in oil and tasted much like real coconut.
Sometimes the children arrived home, pockets bulging with nuts already dry and bare of their outer layer of flesh. "We found some ball-bearings [Kugellager]!" they shouted gleefully. These nuts had an interesting trajectory behind them. As ripe fruit they fell from the palm tree. Next, they were licked up by the rough tongue of a cow. Inside the cow's mouth they were pushed to and fro between molars, to loosen the nutritious flesh. Next, everything vanished into the cow's stomach. The indigestible core eventually found its way out of the animal's digestive system via the natural pathways. Sometime later, the cow pack dissolved in the rain, or worms and grubs got to it, leaving the nuts exposed in their shells, by now well dry, and more or less clean. After cracking them open with a hammer or rock, the children -- not only they -- gorged themselves on the delicious nut splinters.
One of these palm tree species had long, hard, and extremely pointy thorns at its base. We used them in our early pioneering years as needles on our much treasured hand-wound gramophone. I must not comment on the sound quality of 'His Master's Voice', but at least it was 'music'.
All our children grew up in close affinity with nature. The trees in the school-wood did not only offer climbing opportunities, they likewise offered nesting opportunities for the immense variety of native birds. High up on a firm branch could be seen the artful nest of an ovenbird, made from clay, its inner chamber safe from bad weather and marauders. These birds flew in beak after beak of carefully selected wet clay from some distant watering hole. They are the size of a thrush, I believe they belong to that species. There was a variety of parrots, small and large, who tended to communicate rather noisily with one-another. Their voices could certainly not be described as melodious. Black-frocked vultures sat high above, on branches of dead trees, dozily digesting their meals, or they could be seen soaring majestically on thermals high in the sky. A colony of more than a dozen weavers were busy building their nests, constructions half a metre long, artistically woven from palm fronds. Then there were the bien-te-veo ('I can see you well'), the black ani, the scissor-tail swallows, the little owl that had its nest in a dugout in a termite-hill. There were the nightjars, and the woodcocks, crying and calling dolefully to each other at night. Occasionally, monkeys might visit. The cicadas, called 'sissi' by the children, sat on the bark of trees, disturbing the peace with their loud, shrill and insistent whistles. I could write volumes just to describe all the different species of ants, beetles, spiders, caterpillars and the incredible diversity of insects crawling and running around.
Apart from the donkey and some horses that were looked after by the bigger boys, there was of course the young –andœ, mentioned earlier. He had a particular appetite for the children's glass marbles. Some anteaters and an armadillo had become accepted residents in the Hof. A young baby puma was being raised on a milk bottle, because its mother had to be shot, as the animal had been attacking our cattle. Once the puma became too large for comfort, we took it to the zoo in Asuncion. The other animals too had to be released back into the wild after a while.
At a joint Brotherhood meeting we decided that two Brothers should travel to North America. They were to visit with friends and to advance contacts with circles interested in our way of life. They were also to actively advertise our Paraguayan endeavours. That's what we called our begging activities. Our hospital was well into red figures and we badly needed financial support. The medical care we provided to the generally poor population near and far was similar to what Dr. Schweizer offered in Africa.
The two Brothers chosen were Hardy Arnold and myself. We were given new suits, made by Willy Kluver, our tailor, and after months of paper warfare we obtained the required visitors' visas that allowed us to enter America.
We boarded the large, dual engine aeroplane in Asuncion. My heart was racing somewhat. Still, putting all my trust in the pilot and in the good operation of the engines, I belted myself in for my first ever flight. We took off without problems, and soared above the vast, practically uninhabited brush-covered Chaco. At the foot of the Cordilleras we landed on the bare earth runway of Santa Cruz, hopping and bouncing, raising a huge cloud of dust. A few ramshackle barracks made up the airport terminal. We were not allowed to leave the aircraft. A tanker brought flight fuel. We were ready to continue with our trip, but then some men began dismantling a wheel and tyre from beneath the right-hand wing. The captain announced that we had a flat tyre. Within a couple of hours the damage was repaired, and we took off safely. Further places we touched down in were La Paz, Lima, Guayaquil, Panama, Cuba, and finally Miami, our destination.
Once through customs, we quickly found a Greyhound bus that was to convey us to Americus in Georgia. There, we were being expected by friends who, much like ourselves, had founded a Christian way of life in community. They called themselves 'Koinonia', Greek for Christian community. The bus was half empty. On the seats right at the back sat some black men. I had always felt sympathy for these people, much discriminated as they were, and suffering segregation. I went and sat with them, hoping I might have a conversation during the trip. But they reacted by moving away, hurriedly and in fear. The expression in their eyes was of alarm. Then the bus driver marched up the aisle and demanded aggressively that I go and sit at the front of the bus; back seats were reserved for the Blacks. I had to obey the captain, obviously. What a first impression of a 'free' America! Wherever I looked, on bus stations, in bars, restaurants, by public toilets and in reception or waiting areas, there were the post-signs: "Whites only".
Next day our Americus friends came to collect us. They put us up in some barracks. Koinonia ran a chicken farm, so eggs were plentiful in our diet. At the beginning we really enjoyed that. In Paraguay, an egg was a rare delicacy and at most available of a Sunday breakfast if the chicken were in laying season and there were enough to go round.
A year earlier, two of our Brothers, at the end of another of these promotional trips in America, finished their travels in Koinonia, and left behind an ancient Buick. It stood in a shed, and had been completely taken over by hens. No wonder; it offered much privacy, in charming nooks and alcoves, for the laying of their eggs. After we cleaned, polished, painted and refurbished the vehicle with a new battery and dynamo, it was put in use again. In earlier days, it must have seen really good times. Now, it suffered badly from insatiable petrol thirst and chronic oil incontinence. It was in this Buick that I sat my first driving exams. I passed the test in a matter of ten minutes. I still have that memorable driving license.
A few days later -- it was now December -- we set off in the car to continue our travels. It had no lateral indicators. Hardy wound down the window whenever we were to turn left, and stuck out his arm. When we went right, I stuck out my arm. Fortunately, certain motoring morals prevailed, and we never got into trouble.
Our first stop was in Atlanta, where we stayed the night with friends. The further we drove north, the colder it got, and then it began to snow. This was a Saturday evening. Army cadets were overtaking us all the time, their tyres constantly spraying our windscreen with wet snow. Eventually the ailing windscreen wipers packed in. Hardy was trying desperately to get them to work again. Anxiously, my fists clasped the steering wheel. We crossed a bridge, but by now my nerves were so frayed, it was time to pull over. At the next motel we stopped, and stayed the night.
Next day the sun was out and shining. It soon melted the snow on the roads. Not long, and we arrived at the house of Dr. Thurmann Arnold, Hardy's uncle. He had invited us to stay with him for a few days. Dr. Thurmann Arnold was a well-known lawyer. His name had been put forward for the forthcoming Nuremberg trials. The friendly evening meal that night ended with generous quantities of whisky. But I did negotiate the way to my bed quite on my own. And what a delightful and comfortable bed it was!
Next day at breakfast, feasting on the typical pancake and Maple syrup, Thurman said to me: "Mike, leave your tatty old Buick here, you will drive my new car. I have to go to my office in Washington, and you two will do some sightseeing of the Capitol and the city."
So then, filled with anxious pride, or proud anxiety, I drove his brand-new Chevy into that world-renowned city. Following Thurmann's directions, I found his office easily, and my heartbeat normalised. From there, Hardy and I went on foot to pay a visit to a number of places, among them the National Library.
Next destination was Philadelphia, where we found accommodation with Tom and Florrie Potts. The Potts were Quakers, and Tom had a hardware store. We met a number of their friends who were keen to know more about the Bruderhof. One evening they invited us to a concert by the renowned Philadelphia Symphonic Orchestra. For me, barely back from the primitive life in Paraguayan jungles, this was a breathtaking and unforgettable experience.
A German family asked us to spend New Year's Eve with them. They had fled Germany when Hitler came to power, having spent time at the Bergdoerfli cooperative in Switzerland, until their travel documents had been sorted. We had a cheerful evening with them. I can still remember the pink, delicate slices of ham they served. One evening, I reported about our life in Paraguay at a Rotary Club meeting, stressing particularly the work we were doing at our hospital.
From there we continued to New York, where once again friends were expecting us. They lived right next to Central Park. On arrival in that city and as I drove through the Holland tunnel, we were sucked straight into the car queues that moved along the streets. Advancing from one red traffic light to the next, irritated by the flickering, distracting neon-light billboards, we finally found the address where our friends lived. In the city centre I tried to look up at the sky, but I had to look hard, and not before I was near a small church, in a narrow gap between all those skyscrapers, did I see above it a tiny, seemingly lost piece of sky. I wondered, was this symbolic of the relationship between faith and the application of technology and science? Everybody was hastening and pushing along in the streets. I had the impression that if a man stood still, he quickly became a hindrance to that speeding flow and was simply run over.
We had been in New York for two days when Tom Potts telephoned us. He had received a telegram from Paraguay saying Hilde was seriously ill, and I should return post haste. Tom got me a ticket and flight reservation for the following day. Next day he arrived in New York and drove me to the airport.
I am unable to describe what went through my heart and mind. One thing was certain, though: The old propeller planes flew much too slowly, and Asuncion seemed terribly far away. The up-river boat trip on the Guar‡n also seemed to last twice as long, but in the end I did arrive in Puerto Rosario. There, Harry Fossard and his driver's mate had already loaded the lorry, which was ready to leave instantly. They let me take the wheel. All I wanted was get to Loma Hoby as quickly as possible, where I hoped to find Hilde still alive. I had not heard anything about the state of affairs during my trip. Hope and dejection chased each other continuously. I was overwhelmed with relief and gratitude when our eyes met and I was able to hold Hilde's limp hand.
Our youngest, Miggeli, was born on the 17th of December 1950, a year earlier. After his birth a young woman, Hanna Martin, helped with the family. She was well liked by the children and fully integrated into the family. We thought Hilde would manage well with Hanna's help during my absence. This was now one year on, in the weeks before Christmas. Even in the Bruderhof this was a period of particular work pressures. Hilde had a great many clothes to sew that needed completing in time for Christmas Eve. Everybody, large and small, was to get a new outfit for those special festivities. Elsewhere, everybody who could was working in some craft or other, making gifts and presents for this giving season. The time around Advent was, however, also the time when the days got much hotter. It had a bad slow-down effect on Hilde. Things became too much. Conscientious and dedicated as she was, though, she pushed herself to extremes. During her teenage years she had suffered a bout of rheumatic fever, and now her heart went on strike. It was a life-threatening situation. That's why they asked me to return with such urgency. She was in hospital when I arrived. She had been taken good care of. Brothers and Sisters went there frequently, to sing outside her hospital room, offering support and praying for her recovery. At night I slept near her, and we shared breakfast in the mornings. There was work nearby, so I remained in close proximity throughout.
The hospital had an X-ray machine with pertinent motor that we had obtained from erstwhile military stock. Assembling and installing it was my first job, and it allowed me to stay close to Hilde. During that period, I was constantly reminded of the Old Testament story about Job. As happened with him, I too felt unjustly punished. Had Hilde and I not surrendered everything for the Kingdom of God? Why had we been stricken with this affliction?
The community was extremely supportive, and under Hans Zumpe's direction, prayer sessions were often held by Hilde's hospital room. Very slowly her strength started coming back, but it took a whole year until she was strong enough to be discharged from hospital.
We moved to a newly built house quite close to the hospital. At long last we could begin a normal family life again, reunited with our children. The house was a long bungalow, built to accommodate two families, one in either half. And new neighbours soon moved in. Tom and Florrie Potts, whose hospitality I had enjoyed in Philadelphia, arrived with their children, and moved in next door. They hoped to find out more about our way of life. Tom and I got on extremely well, and Hilde found a friend in Florrie.
Once more I took charge of the repair workshop and sawmill. One day, while heaving, pushing and rolling heavy hardwood logs, I damaged my back, and a nerve got trapped between two vertebrae. As a result I was dragging my left leg; it was impossible to sit. In the mornings I rolled sideways out of bed, getting myself into an upright position with the help of my hands on the wall. All the artistry of our doctors came to nothing, so I was sent to Asuncion in one of those tiny taxi aeroplanes, to consult with a bone and spinal injuries expert. After an X-ray he said: "Either we operate, or we can stretch the spine, then put you in plaster-cast." I decided to go for the cast. So, enveloped in a firm white panzer, from hips right up into my armpits, I returned home, finally free of pain.
I was useless for the work at the sawmill. In the school, one of the teachers had dropped out, so I went to work there, passing on the knowledge and wisdom of multiplication tables and logical connections of geometry and physics, with differing success. As I was used to being with the school children on school-free afternoons and on Sunday mornings, I knew my little troops quite well, and they me.
Five weeks later I was freed from my now rather reeking stiff white armour. What a wonderful sensation, my first shower right afterwards! I was given a corset made to measure that, tightly tied and fitted, was to take the weight off my spine. Over a period of years I slowly managed to reduce the wear of that corset until one day I could leave it off indefinitely, as the problem had completely disappeared.
By now, the Bruderhof in England had grown considerably. We had been spared the ravages of war, so we asked ourselves, could we do anything to alleviate the misery of the many refugees? We offered to take in orphaned children. The German Government said that Wheathill, yes, could have twelve German orphans, but there was no way that they would let any of these children go to Paraguay. So we opted instead for a hundred 'DPs' -- 'Displaced Persons', or Eastern refugees -- hoping we might offer them a new home in Primavera. We sent a number of Brothers to England to strengthen our contact with Wheathill, and to facilitate the selection of the refugees, as well as to help with the official negotiations.
The Zumpe family had been among them. After they departed, their living quarters stood empty. Emi-ma, Hans' wife, had long been of delicate health, so they lived in a specially designed house that had tiled floors, with fireplaces in two of its rooms, for cold winter days. That's where we moved in. I remember the spell there as the nicest and most harmonious time we ever had as a family. A thick hedge of young grapefruit trees kept us somewhat apart and secluded from passers-by on an adjoining road, much used by everybody in the Hof. Behind the house grew an enormous patch of dense bamboo, whose poles, as thick as a man's arm, stretched high into the sky and moved gracefully in the breeze. Especially at night, the rustling of its long, pointed, sharp-edged leaves betrayed the strength of the breezes. It was easy to climb up on those thick stalks, and I still vividly remember Sanni and her friend Irene hanging on, high up, close to the tips of the long shoots, weaving and swaying backwards and forwards and singing songs at the top of their voices. Next to the house stood a mulberry tree that was easy to climb. Else-Maria absolutely loved scrambling up its long branches, only to slide down on their outer tips. Hilde herself used to be a great gymnast when she was young, so her heart did not stop at the sight of such acrobatics.
The front roof stretched well beyond the bedrooms, to form a cover for a broad, open verandah. That's where our big dining table stood, surrounded by benches, at its top end a chair for Hilde. Passion flowers provided a lush green canopy as they spread on a trellis that extended beyond the verandah. Fronting the verandah were some flower beds that reflected Hilde's green fingers. Iridescent hummingbirds on whirring wings and a variety of wild bees visited the garden and drank from our collection of flowering orchids that came from the surrounding forests. I could go on about these fascinating creatures, and about many others that tried to share our lodgings with us. But I must harness my manifold memories.
Our community continued to grow and, in continuous contact with friends in the United States, England, Germany and Uruguay, our perceptions were that we ought not to confine ourselves solely to life in Primavera. There, we were now expecting the arrival of the one hundred GPs. For that, a new Hof was started. We called it Ibate'. The Bruderhof in England expanded too, purchasing an adjacent farm, and in Uruguay we were in close touch with a group of people who asked us to also found a Bruderhof there. Furthermore, quite a number among us were convinced that we ought to start again in Germany. In England, the Wheathill Bruderhof organised a work camp with a participating German youth group, who helped build a new schoolhouse. From Wheathill we were also getting requests to send them further helpers. The result was a decision that Hilde and I should go. But who was to take charge of our children? Nils and Dora, a Swedish couple, volunteered. They had one adoptive son, Ingmar, who was of Seppel's age.
Farewells were brief, as there wasn't much time to lose; we had to be on our way. We flew to Rio de Janeiro. There, we were to board the vessel 'Highland Brigade'. It was February of 1956, carnival festivities were in full swing, and Rio's streets were noisy and congested with the colourful, dancing and cavorting crowds. We did manage to sleep once we closed the windows and shut out the noise. Next morning the only sign of the revelries was the odd exhausted or drunken figure lying dazed in a doorway or on the pavement.
We utterly enjoyed the ocean crossing, although there was one bad storm that had to be weathered. Waves as high as a house, topped with white foaming froth, threw our large ship about as if it were a tiny nutshell. As it rolled, the ship shuddered violently each time the huge propeller blade rose out of the water. Once safely in London, one of the Brothers met up with us and took us to the Wheathill Bruderhof.
It was a special treat to get to know all the many mostly English Brothers and Sisters. We were made very welcome and felt instantly at home. The community with its beginnings in Europe had survived the dreadful war in exile. A great number of the Brotherhood felt strongly committed to another attempt at bearing witness of brotherliness in Germany. Wheathill therefore became the springboard for the search of new contacts and the reestablishing of old connections, for example with influential people of the Confessional Church. In order to keep in touch with the pulse of the times, we organised a work camp, at which fifteen young men and women from the German peace movement participated. By working, playing, singing and talking together, all of us, but in particular our own young members, wanted to meet and find out about the problems and yearnings of our young guests.
We urgently needed more classrooms for our growing number of children in Wheathill. So at ridiculously low prices we purchased some old dismantled military barracks. Foundations were poured and walls raised. The mornings with the work-campers were for this kind of work, the afternoons for walking, rambling, playing games, singing, discussions and getting to know one-another on a more intimate level. I recall one particular outing with this lively group. That was a visit to the manufacturers of Cadbury's Chocolates. The Cadbury's were Quakers, for some time already we were having friendly contacts with them. At the end of touring the chocolate-scented factory, on saying our good-byes, we all got a bag that held a variety of sweet delicacies.
We received a sales offer of a site in Germany where we could start our new Bruderhof. This was Burg Hohenstein in northern Bavaria. Hans Zumpe led a small group to visit the place and to find out more details. Whilst the place lay in the most beautiful surroundings, it was soon obvious that the buildings were in need of extensive repairs. Added to this was the drawback that we were not allowed to enlarge the place with additional premises.
A better offer turned up in the valley of the river Sinn, near Bruckenau. It was a large estate that had been run as a manor, and consisted of a number of buildings with multiple apartments. The property included a few hectares of land, stables, as well as a vegetable plot. The proprietor, an elderly, unmarried woman, put the whole property at our disposal, as it was her intention to join the Bruderhof.
Hilde was part of the small vanguard that settled in the new place, while I stayed in Wheathill for a few more months. This was the first time that Hilde and I were separated from each other for such a long time. It provoked an intense exchange of letters, often two a week. We rarely got news from our children. That caused us both extensive emotional stress. Still, at long last the day for my departure and trip to the Sinnthalhof arrived. Sinnthalhof, that was the name we gave this place in Germany, where we were to start with the new Bruderhof. Travelling with the green Opel Caravan, weighed down with much baggage, suitcases, and a heavily stacked roof rack, the Wheathill Brotherhood bade their good-byes. At the farewell, they sang: Kein schoener Land in dieser Zeit als hier das unsre weit und breit... This song was a great tradition on the Bruderhofs everywhere, sung for decades at every departure or arrival. I wonder, is this still the case?
Once in London, there were a few business matters that needed sorting. I spent the night at the YMCA. Next day I took the ferry to Ostende. In Cologne, I stayed overnight with Bruderhof friends. On the streets, the children ran after me, shouting: "Fidel! Fidel!" That was, of course, in honour of my distinguished beard.
The Sinnthalhof had stood empty for years, so there was considerable work to be done before the premises could be used as dwellings. We heated the rooms with firewood that we collected in the nearby woods, for which the forest ranger had given us permission. We had a combined circular saw and planing machine with which we cut slats from waste wood planks. We nailed the slats together and made them into bottle crates and sold those to the brewery at the large mineral water bottling factory in Bad Bruckenau. We went through extremely meagre times, but guests were constantly arriving, especially young people, who all joined in the work. A number of them ended up staying and joining. The majority, though, left again to pursue a different way of life.
It was delightful, after sixteen years in subtropical Paraguay, to experience another European Spring. I will never forget the dawn on Easter Sunday when, as was our tradition, we rose early and climbed the nearby hill, to wait in the approaching dawn for the rising sun. We were not the only ones. Blackbirds, thrushes, finches and starlings were all singing their praises too. The cuckoo called, a woodpecker was at his percussion instruments, and skylarks exulted high above the fields. Once again, light won over darkness, and everywhere could be seen the beginnings of new life.
Those eventful times passed very quickly. It was eighteen months since we left Paraguay. We received occasional letters, drawings and picture messages from our children. But now we were to return.
The range of activities of the Loma Hoby hospital had broadened considerably. With the refugees from Eastern Europe came a gifted and successful surgeon. Yet, there was a great dearth of medical items and medicines. So while in the Sinnthalbruderhof, we wrote to a great many hospitals and medical organisations and asked them to help with donations. The results were excellent. When we departed for London, our luggage consisted of fifteen suitcases, stuffed to bursting point with medical goods. In London, a further mountain of cases, sacks and crates full of medical items was awaiting us. Doris Boller, whose foot had been successfully operated on, was to travel with us. So there we were, three passengers with forty-eight pieces of luggage! But then, ocean liners do have plentiful space for baggage, so of course, it did not matter.
The ocean crossing was peaceful and refreshing, and soon we arrived in Montevideo. On its outskirts, another mini-Bruderhof had already been started, called El Arado [the Plough]. Hilde and Doris stayed there, to leave for Asuncion by aeroplane. I remained on the ship with all that luggage. At the other side of the huge Rio de la Plata was the end of the line.
In Buenos Aires, Marei and Sven helped me with the transfer and relocation of the baggage onto the river steamer. Everything had been declared as goods in transit to Asuncion, so there were no complications at customs. Problems with customs officers might possibly arise on arrival in Asuncion, though. So jovial Johnny Robinson succeeded in making friends with the customs inspectorate and made sure, in advance -- in the shape of fluid or solid contributions? Who knows, this is a secret matter -- that the arrival of the cases was to run smoothly. I am certain that a lone second class passenger, owning forty-eight pieces of luggage, is a rather unusual sight. Still, the officers on duty marked each and every item with the letter 'L', libre [free].
Our three oldest children, Seppel, Sanni and Gottlieb, were in Asuncion when we arrived. Seppel was there for his apprenticeship as cabinet-maker, Sanni worked as Hausmaedchen ['house-daughter'] helping with the housework, and Gottlieb was studying to become a mechanic. The three felt at home and happy in that small circle. They relished the enthusiasm of the group of mainly youngsters, who were there for further education and training. Most of them were still in their teens. They certainly had fun.
Hilde and Doris, who had arrived two days earlier, joined me and the luggage on the next boat that went up-river to Puerto Rosario. There, we found our son Benjamin, who had come along on the lorry, to meet us. And at long last, after a long, tiresome trip, we arrived back in Loma Hoby, our home.
Nils, Dora and Ingmar were expecting us, and here too were Miggeli, Else-Maria, Hansli, Raegeli and David. There was much to tell. The children had all grown considerably, physically and otherwise.
It took us no time to get used again to the daily rhythm dictated by the hot climate. We rose at five in the morning, breakfast was from six till half past, by seven o'clock everybody was expected at their workplace, department or in school.
Every family received a once-a-week supply of the following rations: Sugar, marmalade or sugarcane syrup, lard, yerba-mate [tea], and a bar of soap. Smokers got between one and three packs of cigarettes of the Chaco brand, made with brown-black tobacco, the natural substance, unadulterated.
Early mornings, and the night watchman had done the preparations: The big-bellied olla, the cast-iron pot, held roughly fifty litres of boiling water for the tea. The wholemeal bread loaves were sliced by the breakfast duty man. At home, the children laid the table, while Hilde plaited the girls' hair. Everybody took turns in these duties. Once we sat round the table, we started by singing a song.
It was not long before we had to move out of that idyllic house surrounded by all those trees, shrubs and flowers. A decision, taken during a joint Brotherhood meeting, settled our removal to Ibate'. There, the growing number of school children needed a further teacher and minder. I took to teaching the fifth graders, two girls and six boys. Hansli was one of them.
Ibate' sat on a gentle mound and had fertile red soil. It was obvious that this hill had been inhabited for many centuries. We found arrow tips and stone tools when we ploughed the fields. Broken pieces of earthenware also testified of a civilization that had long since disappeared. I always thought it such a pity that these finds could not speak for themselves and tell us about the peoples who made and used them.
Today, in my sitting room, hangs an enlarged black and white photograph of our family taken in 1958. Seppel, Sanni and Gottlieb had come from Asuncion for the summer holidays, and we went to the river house for a week's vacation by the Tapiracuay river. This house was a simple, primitive wooden construction. The centre was a raised room, open at front and back and furnished with a long, solid table and benches. On either side lay large bedrooms fitted with wooden plank-beds. At the back was the kitchen with its open fireplace, walled in on only two sides.
This place was far from all civilisation. It was surrounded by the jungle with its rather oppressively towering trees, thickets, impenetrable brush and twining liana snakes everywhere. This was an ideal location for recovery from the nerve-racking life in community.
When we got there, the Fischer family was expecting us. It had been their turn at this holiday spot, but when they intended to return some days ago, they were rained in and had to stick it out till we came.
Our trip, and the time we spent together as a family, surrounded by all this untouched nature, remains a precious memory to this day.
As I said earlier, we were setting up El Arado, a small new Bruderhof near Montevideo, in Uruguay. The Brotherhood resolved to send the Fischli family there, to augment the group. So we never spent that much time in Ibate'. With colossal exertions, diligence and idealism, we had raised three well functioning Hofs in Paraguay, yet as the Swiss proverb puts it so appropriately: "Mir baued Huser und Palaescht und sind doch da nur fremdi Gaescht." ["We build houses and palaces but are never more than alien visitors."]
Our young people needed more contact with other youth groups. One way of opening up horizons was to stage the Berthold Brecht play, "Draussen vor der Tur". With immense enthusiasm they performed it not only for us in Primavera, but also for our Mennonite neighbours and even in Asuncion for German speaking circles.
The International Ecumenical Organisation of Churches helped us at the time to organise a few work camps in Primavera, with young people from various countries coming to help us. The campers, an interesting mix from the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, were to build the projected extensions for the Loma Hoby hospital.
Sanni arrived from Asuncion to participate in this work camp. There, she first met the man, a Brazilian, whom she was to marry later. We could just about say our farewells to her before the lorry took us away on our travels, with destination Uruguay.
Benjamin and David got good marks in school and had some idea about what kind of studies they wanted to pursue. Benjamin wanted to become a veterinary surgeon, whilst David's intentions lay in the profession of surveyor, like his grandfather. Both had already left for Uruguay, together with a group of youngsters who were all to study in Montevideo. The grammar-schools in Montevideo offered clear advantages to our students.
After a few days at the Bruderhof-house in Asuncion, Hilde, Regula and Else-Maria took a flight to Montevideo. I boarded the river steamboat with Hansli and Miggeli, as we were travelling via Buenos Aires. We were travelling with nine large, tightly packed cases full of turned artifacts. There were wooden bowls, cups, candlesticks and much more, made of different tropical hardwoods, to be sold by the El Arado community who saw this as a welcome improvement of their finances.
Arriving in Buenos Aires, once again Marei and Sven were expecting us, and as usual they helped me transfer the luggage and board the ferry to Montevideo. There, the great river changes its name from Paran‡ to Rio de la Plata, the 'River of Silver'. But in the wide expanse of the yellow-murky waters that flow towards the Atlantic, there is no silver to be found. It is only when the sun rays fall on the dancing waves that they are crowned with tiny flashes of silvery light. But that light is far brighter than silver.
One of our Brothers with good command of Spanish made friends in Montevideo with the customs officials and when we arrived, customs were ready for the rather unusual volume of our luggage. So there were no problems when we crossed the border into Uruguay. There was a saying that Uruguay was the 'Latin-American Switzerland'. Unfortunately, all this was to change completely some years later.
Two Brothers were waiting for me, they had come with the small Borgward truck that took us along, and the baggage. The El Arado circle received us with eagerness, and we, too, could call ourselves a family once more, albeit a smaller one, as the three oldest children stayed behind in Paraguay.
My work was extremely varied. As mechanic I was in charge of maintenance and care, of the agricultural equipment and machinery, and of the two automobiles. Twice weekly I had reparto-duties, that is, making the deliveries to our customers, in our small 'Thames' delivery van loaded with crates of fresh vegetable and fruit, pots of jam, plucked and cleaned poultry, and a few hundred eggs. Most of it had been ordered by those clients. Some of our products were of especially good quality, which helped to expand our clientele. Our bearded faces also seemed to make an impression. Anyway, we were quite successful. Our homemade marmalade and jams were much sought after. At half past one we usually had a break at a pub by the harbour, where a large, sometimes tough 'milanesa' steak appeased our grumbling stomachs.
I had to take the driving test in order to get a driving license. The test consisted mainly of parking the vehicle at a distance of five to ten centimetres from the curb stone. In the city traffic, right of way was usually conceded to the stronger and faster vehicles, one precondition being a loudly blaring horn.
Our small group in El Arado lived a highly active life. There were many visitors who came not only from Montevideo but also from Buenos Aires. Some of them stayed and joined. I remember Felipe Badesich particularly well. He was a well-known singer, and came from Buenos Aires. He was fed up with life in society. He came to us bringing with him a diminutive boy, homeless and orphaned, whom he had picked off the streets. Apart from Felipe's musical gifts, he had others. He was a true gourmet and excellent cook. He had a big heart, was always available to children, to the young, and to anyone disadvantaged. He had a full, resounding voice that seemed to come straight from the heart. I remember vividly how he ardently sang the popular Spring song: Nun bricht aus allen Zweigen das maienfrische Grun, die ersten Lerchen steigen, die ersten Veilchen bluhn... [From every branch around us green Spring shoots appear, the first skylark hovers, the first violet is in bloom...]
We had close contact with a group of young people, mostly intellectuals, who called themselves Comunidad del Sur. They had a small printing shop and publishing company in Montevideo. They too were searching for ways of overcoming the inequalities, hatred and enmities that tyrannised people everywhere. Some years later they were imprisoned, branded and decried as 'Communists' and 'Socialists'. A few of them managed to flee the country.
Benjamin and David went to school in Montevideo, commuting daily. Hansli was finishing his fifth grade and Regula the sixth, while Miggeli and Else-Maria went to primary school classes in the Hof. We employed a local young teacher to teach Spanish. My nephew, Klaus Meier, son of my sister Margrit, joined our family. He was studying medicine at the Montevideo University. Our relatively large group of students brought much liveliness into the place. Apart from their studies and homework, they were also expected to help in the vegetable garden and orchard, as well as doing assorted domestic chores. They often went on day trips with the small truck, spending them singing and laughing and having a good time. I could go on and on about life in El Arado, there is much to write about. Regarding our family in particular, it was at that time that Susanna left Primavera and the Bruderhof, and came to Uruguay, to live and work with a Uruguayan family in the small town of Mercedes.
The Brotherhood deemed necessary to transfer the weight of our tasks more in the direction of Europe. One first measure was to send roughly one hundred people across the Atlantic, to settle in Germany and England. Among those 'chosen' was my own family. Destination was to be the Sinnthal Bruderhof in the Rhoen. This meant that once again we were to pack our bags. Bob and Hanna Peck were passing through at the time, waiting for passage for their Atlantic crossing. They took the bulk of our baggage on the ocean liner. Among the luggage were a few handsomely crafted wooden boxes and trunks, handmade with much sweat and great care and dedication by Seppel and Gottlieb.
The majority of travellers with destination Europe was to cross the Atlantic by aeroplane. The Brazilian airline VARIG had just purchased its first jet, a Boeing 707, and we were able to charter it on its virgin flight at a very reasonable price. Each passenger had a luggage allowance of not more than twenty kilos.
Our own small group coming from Uruguay first flew to Asuncion. We arrived a day early, and stayed at the Mennonite's transit lodge. The Bruderhof House was brimming over with the travellers from Primavera.
The Primavera voyagers' luggage were sacks made from rough cotton, stuffed with clothes, firmly closed with cord and marked with labels. I can still see before me the huge pile of bags in the departure lounge of the airport. The flight captain arrived, looked us and the bags over, and appeared as if he was going to raise his arms to high heaven. He made us weigh all our luggage again, and we too, all of us, had to stand on the scales. But there was no excess weight, and he braved the crossing.
The day was oppressively hot and muggy. Then, just as we boarded the plane, the heavens opened, and with great commotion of thunder and lightning we dashed through the tiny door into the aircraft. Its carpeted floor, the soft upholstered seats that enclosed us so comfortably, everything beguiled our body parts that were so used to rough, hard wooden benches.
The mighty engines began turning, we rolled forward, stopped for a moment, then moved on, further and further, faster and faster, the rain was whipping horizontally past the small windowpanes and suddenly we had takeoff. I wondered if our liftoff was due to the powerful jet engines or the silent prayers of all our first-time flyers.
Rio de Janeiro was our first stop-over. Everybody had to disembark, because the craft had to be cleaned, thoroughly checked, and refuelled prior to the Atlantic crossing. There we all were, bearded men in crumpled trousers, wearing no ties, women, their hair sternly parted in the middle and pulled back, hidden beneath dark polka dotted kerchiefs, clad in long, modest frocks, a curious but strangely peaceful little flock straight out of the backwoods. The amazement was mutual. What on earth did the Brazilians think on seeing this spectacle? Oh well. The majority will have thought in Portuguese anyway.
We flew off, across the ocean into the night, in the direction of Africa, destination Dakar in the Senegal. There, the plane touched down gently and we were led into the airport, where we were served a midnight banquet: Fried eggs, sizzling away noisily, with white bread buns. Tall, black men waited attentively on us, their blue-black faces glistening, whites of the eyes flashing, ivory teeth enhancing their smiles. "Look, Vater," Else-Maria whispered, "their hands are pink on the inside!" Most of the fried eggs remained uneaten, although no food had been served during the flight. Was that because we were merely a 'charter party', or did they not have the required equipment, or personnel?
Day broke. We were back in the air. On our left stretched the blue Atlantic ocean, on our right the desert. Then came the straight of Gibraltar, every detail visible. We flew across Spain now, and around midday we saw the snow on the Alps. My heart quickened. This was the first time that I saw Switzerland from high above: The Matterhorn, Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau, then the long bow-shaped lake of Zurich. It was early afternoon by the time we landed in Frankfurt.
The greater part of travellers flew on to England, where they were to stay in the Bruderhof there. After we said our farewells, Hanna's father, Arno Martin came to collect us. Gerda, Hilde's sister, was also there to greet us, as was her husband Erwin. They hadn't seen one-another for some years. We sat with them in a garden restaurant for some refreshments. Time flew fast, there was much to tell and catch up with. Arno organised a coach that took us to the Sinnthalhof.
The Sinnthalhof had changed. A new house had been built next to the big old manor house. On the spot where once stood the mighty barn and horse stables now stood a one-storey workshop, with the woodworking machines on the ground floor and the craft shop in large rooms on the first. We were lodged in the 'rail carriage', the part of the house that got its name for its similarities with a rail carriage. A long, narrow passage led to eight small rooms lying side by side. These somewhat primitive quarters used to house coachmen, ploughmen and servants. At the end of the passage lay the communal loo. The floor was of thick wooden planks, browned with age and highly waxed and polished. Wherever we walked on those floor boards, they creaked and squeaked, here louder, there lower. The sounds gave away whoever was passing through, large or small. It was even possible to gauge the mood of the passerby. Nowadays, our hard, concrete floors covered with wall-to-wall carpets ensure anonymity.
Lodgings for the roughly thirty newcomers from Paraguay were pretty confining. We shared six rooms with the Hasenberg family. The girls' bedroom slept our Regula and Else-Maria in one bunk-bed, on the facing wall stood another bunk for Jean and Brenda Hasenberg. Berndt Hasenberg shared the room with our boys.
Benjamin -- who had wanted to become a veterinary surgeon and would have had the stuff for it -- now discovered that all his school years in South America, including school certificates and excellent results, were of no value whatsoever in Germany. The school authorities refused to recognise them. He would have to start from the beginning, and that could cost him years. So he decided to learn the cabin-maker profession. The same fate befell David and his plans to become a surveyor. So he started an apprenticeship as precision mechanic, at the Max Planck Institute in Wurzburg. Regula, Hansli, Else-Maria and Emil soon settled into their respective school classes in Bruckenau. They seemed well integrated and happy. In the mornings, Arno Martin drove them in a big station wagon to the school in Bruckenau. We could hear them singing and laughing through the open windows of the vehicle. Arno was well liked, not only by the children.
The influence from the many American families that had recently joined our community had shifted the foundations of our means of subsistence from agricultural produce to the manufacture of children's toys. To this day, two of my grandchildren, the daughters of my son Paul -- formerly "Miggeli" -- play with one of the sturdy toy-tractors. They ride around on it and it still is a much used and cherished plaything. It was made in the Sinnthalhof. All the women, girls and men who had the skills, manufactured a large assortment of items that were then sold far and wide at various exhibitions and markets.
The various communities living in a number of Hofs separated by enormous geographical distances held fixedly on to the principle that 'each member was responsible individually for everything.' This was still just about feasible while we lived in three Hofs in Primavera. With the founding of the bruderhofs in England, El Arado in Uruguay, then Woodcrest in the United States, this became an impossibility. Instead of granting sovereignty to individual Hofs, a number of Hofs were to be closed down. From the United States a pietistic capitalism or capitalistic pietism began to be felt.
At the same time, the community was shaken by a crisis. The large responsibility-carrying Brotherhood in Primavera was dissolved. Everybody was urged to practice a form of individual self-absorbed soul-searching and to find the sin within him or herself. The hospital in Loma Hoby was closed down because it did not yield a profit. Loma Hoby was dismantled and the new rice fields abandoned. "The Brothers will suffer spiritual harm if they are to work so hard at harvest time," was the argument raised by the American Brothers to justify this move. I remember vividly the communal workdays, be they during the harvest of particular crops, working the fields, or our vegetable plots. You could find us all side-by-side, sweating profusely, the former preacher next to the office clerk, an erstwhile director side by side with a former tramp, the Ph.D. beside the cobbler, each one wiping the perspiration off their foreheads with equally dirty and grimy hands. Jokes were bandied about to which everybody laughed, and they made the heavy work seem much less hard. Wasn't the spirit of this exercise meant to be a sacred exertion, also for the benefit of our Mother Earth, the vast open firmament serving as our roof and protection in this our open-air temple? Or were we only really meant to merely "eat bread in the sweat of our face, till we return unto the ground"?
The letters coming from Primavera, telling us about the crisis and dissolution of the Hofs, startled and frightened me. I could not agree with what was going on there. This meant that I was at variance with the Brotherhood. As it was understood and defined then, I found myself 'in the wrong spirit'. In order to find my way back into the 'right spirit', I requested a time for reflection outside the Bruderhof.
At a distance of roughly two kilometres down the valley lies Bad Bruckenau with its three mineral springs. King Ludwig of Bavaria, renowned for much beautiful architecture, had the springs contained and surrounded by attractive residential buildings for himself and his entourage, and for anybody else seeking the springs' healing powers. Nowadays, the mineral water is bottled in a modern bottling plant and sold countrywide. A vacancy was available at the plant, and I immediately began to work there.
The foreman led me into a small shed standing a little on the side. Inside, it stank of hydrochloric acid. A pile of crates with empty bottles stood there. The bottles wore cement and chalk splashes that the routine washing process had been unable to remove. There was a pair of rubber boots that fitted me. A heavy wrap-around rubber apron protected me, and rubber gloves reaching to the elbows safeguarded my hands. He showed me the knack of things, then left me to get on with the job. The cement and chalk dissolved in the acid bath. The acid, once saturated with dirt, was poured into the sewage system that ran into the river Sinn (poor fish!).
It all crushed me; the sticky acidic smell that surrounded me, my sad thoughts, the search for my guilt. These were tough times. The only positive aspect was the air saturated with the acidic fumes. Not a virus or bacterium managed to survive in its environment. So I survived. And something more: At the weekend was pay day, where I got a little yellow pouch that contained German Marks and Pfennig. This was my very first ever earned wages package. I carried it home with great pride and very obediently handed it over to the housekeeper.
After a few weeks, the Brotherhood found that I was 'in the right spirit' again and I was allowed once more to work in the Hof. Was it the hydrochloric acid that had purified my spirit? Alas, the newly found unity did not last long. There were all these reports coming from Primavera about Brothers and Sisters, yes, whole families being sent away, men and women for whom I could vouch, I knew them so well. Once again I was in disunity, once again I was sent to work in Bad Bruckenau.
This time I got a better job, in the bottling department. Once the bottles were filled and labelled they arrived jingling, standing upright like soldiers, on the conveyor belt. A colleague and I stood at a rotating table. We each had a crate in front of us. My left hand grabbed three bottles that landed instantly in the crate, while my right hand had already picked up another three. Soon twenty four bottles filled the crate and with a Hauruck! it was put to the side, to be followed by the next crate.
The glassy jangling of the bottles allowed no conversation. At half time, after four hours, the machines were switched off. An unreal silence filled the halls. Sitting on a crate, we all quietly ate our sandwiches washed down with a bottle of diverted mineral water.
The late shift started at two o'clock in the afternoon and finished at ten o'clock at night. My colleague had a long way home. He had to cross the mountain to the Hessian Zuntersbach. The early morning shift began at six and went till two. At home, Hilde kept me food from the midday meal. Afterwards I had a rest. Although this work outside the community, in the unfamiliar surroundings of shift-work, was physically tough, it signified for me a time of inner recovery. After a period of three months, the 'wrong spirit' seemed to have left me, and I regained once more my full Brotherhood membership.
Then some of the 'leading' Brothers from North America came for a visit. Looking back, I believe they were sent to place the European Bruderhofs on an equal footing with Woodcrest, and to steer the members on the same course as those in Woodcrest. They simply dissolved the Brotherhood in Sinnthalhof and told the members they were to 'go within themselves' to recognise where they had been at fault and confess their guilt. After this 'cleansing' act a number of families were sent away, among them the family of Karl Hundhammer, Hilde's brother.
We too were to go. I spent a week looking for accommodation in the surrounding villages. It was hopeless, so we were allowed to stay on, for the time being. I took a job at a parquet factory. It was once more work at the conveyor belt. It seems that after some six weeks, 'the wrong spirit' that had taken hold of me had evaporated. Whereto, I have no idea. As it was, I found myself suddenly back in the Brotherhood as a fully valid member.
This Sinthalhof Brotherhood, notwithstanding, was being racked by heavy crises. El Arado had been abandoned and sold. In Primavera, the hospital had come to a standstill and following that, the whole settlement with its three Hofs was dismantled and dissolved. Everything that was put together and built and set up over all those many years was now being abandoned, left behind. Only the houses were left standing. Furnishings, equipment, machines, the whole power supply and distribution system, all our solid, carefully built and crafted furniture was being sold dirt-cheap to the neighbours. The herd of milk cows was hawked at the ridiculous price of slaughtering cattle, and the land sold to the Mennonites with enormous losses.
Worse, and more painful, was that so many Brothers and Sisters were being sent away or were leaving of their own will. They all were 'in the wrong spirit'. In fact, it was only a minority that was 'in the right spirit' and was causing the inner and outer dissolution and confusion. "By their fruit shall ye know them!" At the time there was much talk of a 'return to the First Love'. Under this banner, they divided, excluded and dispatched. In England, the Wheathill Bruderhof was dissolved in a similar way. The rightful sheep were separated from the evil rams or the black sheep. The Sinnthalhof also came to suffer under this wretched trend.
Many people were sent away, whole families even. So, too, Hilde's brother Karl with his large family, as mentioned earlier. Bob and Hanna Peck had to go, Hanna's sister Ruth Pleil with her husband Hermann, the families Sorgius, and Wiegand, as well as a number of single Brothers and Sisters. They could only take with them the barest essentials. All of them went through very difficult times of spiritual loss and material deprivation. Those who were so-to-say following the party-line were allowed to travel to England, where they were received in the newly founded Bulstrode Bruderhof.
In England too there was chaos. The Wheathill Bruderhof had been dissolved, and many members sent away. Here is one example of the havoc that reigned in the Bruderhofs: Bulstrode sent Eileen Hasenberg and her three youngest children to the Sinthalhof. While they were still en route, a telephone call came telling us to meet her at the train station. She was not to enter the Sinthalhof. She was to find herself somewhere else to live. This task fell to me, and as obedient Brother I did what I was told, although my conscience rebelled. I still see before me the face of the mother, puzzled, aghast, shaken, and the crying children. I took them to a cheap hotel and gave them a little money for the next days. Ashamed, I cowardly bade a brief farewell. But I had obediently fulfilled orders as they had come from England.
In the end, only two families remained in the Hof: The Barths, Joerg and Renate with their baby, and we, the Fischlis. The rooms that had been resounding with voices and liveliness now stared back at us in emptiness and silence. We had no idea what was to happen next. Then a telephone call from Bulstrode announced the visit of a young American Servant of the Word together with a German Brother. We prepared everything for a cordial reception. The evening passed by and nobody turned up. They arrived the next morning.
"We will be spending the night at the hotel," they said. "We only came here to tell you that you will have to find yourself somewhere else to stay, as there is no room for you in Bulstrode." Then they disappeared again, without even saying good-bye.
What were we to do after this advice? Benjamin and David had begun their apprenticeships. The four youngest ones were well integrated in their respective school classes in Bruckenau. It was hopeless to try and find accommodation in the surrounding towns or villages.
Then I remembered something my father had said many years ago, when the Schlehstud in Meilen was being built. It had been my parents and Aunt Thildy who had financed the land and the construction. He said at the time: "If ever any of our children who emigrated to far away countries should get into trouble, then they shall find a home in the Schlehstud."
Next day, I found myself on the first train that left Bruckenau in direction of Gemunden. There, I changed trains for Wurzburg, and on to Stuttgart. From Stuttgart I had a direct connection to Zurich. I arrived in the Schlehstud in Meilen during late afternoon. I told mother and my brother Hans about my predicament and had their instant sympathy. "Do come, we have enough room for you all," they said.
Next day, with a feeling of relief, I returned to Germany. In Gemunden I caught the last local train that was to carry me home. But it did not go beyond Jossa! This is a somewhat lonely, abandoned railway junction of the Deutsche Bahn, the German rail enterprise. It was already past midnight, the station and waiting rooms had been locked up. I found a barn nearby that wasn't bolted up, so I lay down to sleep and rest my tired limbs in the hay. Early next morning I caught the first train to Bruckenau, and we began straight away to pack, put in our notice of departure, and say our farewells.
Joerg Barth found a job as assistant teacher in Rothenturm and a small apartment. Luckily, Arnold and Gladys Mason arrived from England with one thousand German Mark for our new start. We gave Benjamin and David each one hundred Mark. Their meagre apprenticeship wages were insufficient for all their outgoings. So we had eight hundred Marks left between the six of us, myself, Hilde and four of our children, for our own new beginning in Switzerland.
At the station, our luggage -- bags filled with bed clothing, suitcases, mattresses, cases containing books and so on -- had been tightly stacked and tied down on a palette and dispatched as baggage. Then, in the evening -- it was already growing dark -- we went off on foot, dragging further rucksacks, bags and cases, following the footpath along the river Sinn to the station. This time, nobody sang the traditional, "Kein schoener Land in dieser Zeit..." Hilde and I felt dejected and sad, whilst the children seemed full of curiosity and expectations.
Just after eleven o'clock we arrived in Wurzburg. The station mission looked after us and let us stay in their nice waiting rooms while we waited for the departure of the first train to Stuttgart. We didn't want to arrive too late in Zurich with all that luggage. The border crossing into Switzerland between Singen and Schaffhausen went smoothly.
So here we were -- Hilde and our four children, Paul Emil (Miggeli), Else-Maria (Elsie), Johannes Daniel (Hansli), and Theodora Regula (Regi) -- arriving in our new homeland after the countless moves and resettlements in country after country, in place after place -- Loma Hoby to Ibate' in Primavera, Paraguay to El Arado in Uruguay, then on to the Sinnthalhof in the Rhoen in Germany, and now finally to Switzerland, Meilen, and the Schlehstud.
Elena, my sister-in-law, was waiting for us at Zurich's central station. She took us by taxi to the Schlehstud. Large panoramic windows let you see over the vineyards of Obermeilen far across the lake of Zurich, right up to the snow covered mountains that form the horizon. After life in the narrow valley of Bad Bruckenau, this was rather refreshing.
My mother, the children's grandmother, sat on her chair by the window, knitting on her lap. With her sensitive fingertips she gently stroked the hair and faces of the children as her way of 'looking' at them. She had been blind now for many years. The children vividly remember this moment of 'being looked at'. Soon she was to recognise everybody by their voices and ways of walking.
Hilde and the children were lodged in the loft. It was a bit tight, but they did have a roof over their heads. I found a friendly neighbour who offered me a bed. Soon I found work as a turner in the Haeny pump factory. Then we moved into a four-bedroom apartment on the Seestrasse in Meilen. We found cheap second hand furniture and soon settled in, to finally pursue a new life together as a family. The children went to school, Hilde did the housework, and I had the job at Haeny's. Interim Balance
It is now mid-October 1997 and in the meantime I have reached the age of 81. Between today and this last part of my autobiographical attempts lie thirty-six years. A great number of events and experiences that we had in common with the then Brothers and Sisters were not mentioned here. For Hilde and myself, the world around us had fallen to pieces. We had given our word, a pledge valid for the rest of our lives, to serve Christ's call in a life of community of goods without private property. Now we had been left standing, without explanation. The one thing we deemed ourselves lucky, though, was that we still had our four underage children with us, for whom we now had to care.
I was near to losing my faith. With gritting teeth I had to subordinate myself to the order of the society I now had to live in. I had been so convinced of my own and the Bruderhof's example, by which we could lay the foundations for a new and fairer order. Had we been trying to force the Kingdom of Heaven on earth onto our fellow men? For years I searched, looking for my own guilt in all this, until one day I remembered that the rain falls on the righteous just as it does on the unrighteous. This was a liberating thought after these agonizing years of introspection, and I breathed freely again.
Today, my sons and daughters are all grown up and have children of their own, some even grandchildren.
Seppel and Gottlieb became community members while still in Primavera. They too had a hand in dismantling and liquidating everything that we built up with tremendous sacrifice, hardship, sweat and blood. Then a few American Brothers together with a group of younger members founded a New Brotherhood under the leadership of one of Eberhard Arnold's sons.
The hospital had been closed down because it was unprofitable. It wasn't worth it to help the poor Paraguayan neighbours. All other work departments in and around the Hofs, such as the rice plantations, the turning shop, carpenters shop and sawmill, were found to be pointless because they too were deemed unprofitable. The pietistic belief that "wealth is evidence of God's blessings" won the day. Even a community, in which its members forfeit their own personal belongings and assets as a declaration of anti-capitalism, can be materialistic. Maybe even more so, as its members, committed to poverty, can be exploited and taken advantage of more successfully. The Bruderhofs as they are now are perfect examples.
So for many years now I have felt fortunate that the community 'left me standing' out in the 'bad world'. I am free, and I carry full responsibility for my own actions. -- October 1997 Postscript
I am greatly indebted to my dear partner Elsi Schnetzler who patiently deciphered my often illegible scribbles and typed these pages over many, many hours. Just as much do I wish to thank my capable daughter Susanna who in turn word-processed letter by letter in her computer, which finally spat out this fine and easily readable end product.