Memories of the New Hutterite Bruderhof 1920, 1961 and 1993

by Herbert Sorgius

translated by Grace Pfeiffer, edited by KIT staff

Dear Hilarion: This will be very difficult. When I try to describe the history of the Bruderhof I will do it in writing because I want to be able to re-read and, if necessary, correct it. I would have some difficulty with a cassette recording. I will use proper names. I've never acquired Torches Rekindled because it is probably filled to the brim with distortions, if not lies. Also in Gegen den Strom - Torches Together, by Emmy Arnold, Plough Publishing House, there are imprecise accounts, although Emmy Arnold, if indeed she herself wrote that book, must have carried her notes around the world as an archive. For instance, the misinterpretation of Cyril's dietary plans for Heini, later to be cited by Milton Zimmerman, continued from Paraguay to Woodcrest. (You will know from your father that most of the Primavera library was abandoned to rot or left to the Mennonites.)
I will try to recap chronologically, but many things, like the "Lotte Henze" story, I only learned later. And so in God's name to work!
My arrival on the Rohn Bruderhof in November, 1932, was delayed for a few weeks because my mother was ill and I had to take care of the family. It was delayed further because I wanted to celebrate the 1st of Advent with my YMCA friends. But as I only knew of the Neuhof (New hof) and was told "The postmaster in Neuhof can give you information," I was delayed until the evening, when I took the bus to Oberkalbach. There Ernst Rottmann met me with a romantic candle lantern.
Ernst was a theologian, a mulatto, who had studied in Tubingen and was chased off the 'hof in 1933, of course "with reasonable excuses." Why? Because before a visit with his brother he had gone to the barber and had his beard shaved off! "Trash!" was Eberhard's verdict! Most certainly he was exterminated [by the Nazis] "outside." During this time, the "habit of NOT approaching the Brotherhood for their true agreement" was formed.
So! Ernst R. brought me to the 'hof. I waited in the dining room, until after the brotherhood meeting. Alfred Gneiting came and asked, "Do you remember me?" He had been friends with my brother since the 1920s! The next days and weeks of Advent with all the songs, not only about the Christ Child, but of the expectation of the Prince of Peace and the preparation of a nativity play, created a strong atmosphere of expectation. So at Christmas I asked to be accepted into the novitiate, (and thus influenced Annemarie Hilbeit {Zimmermann}).
In 1933, during another big outbreak of flu, Adolf Braun asked if I would help in the kitchen and laundry (I had come to work in my profession as a bookbinder.) That I would agree was a foregone conclusion, but when people noticed that I could cook, I stayed in that job for about six months. Of course I noticed that every day there was meat and real coffee made from beans prepared for Eberhard "because he was ill." This didn't make it easier for me to serve watery soup with a bit of rice, vegetables or potato every day to the hardworking people. So my "problems" soon started in spite of the explanations.
Years later it turned out that the only illness from which the well-fed spokesman was suffering was a detached retina which, to my mind, would have been helped more by a strict diet and stopping his cigar- smoking. I know that [his special diet] caused problems for a number of members, to which the reply was, "That is just jealousy." This problem [now known as "comparing" and considered a sin - ed] reappeared during subsequent years, but the reasons given were "It's a Hutterite Order" and "The double honor of the Servants" as mentioned in the Letter to the Ephesians. This custom was done away with in England or Paraguay.
When I arrived, there were few smokers. Nevertheless it was a hotly discussed issue, especially because Eberhard had "promised the Hutterites" to put an end to it. During the 1937 visit from David Hofer and Michael Waldner, it was a main point of contention, as also during the visit of Wipf Vetter and company. I remember Eberhard saying in 1933, "Whoever believes he cannot give up [smoking], come talk to me." But Eberhard always smoked the most expensive cigars (L. Ragaz at a meeting in a Zurich cafe said that they were the most expensive). Even then they cost DM 2 each! Later on, the Steward had to give out the smokes (Alfred G.). But when women joined the community, they had to give up smoking. As far as I heard, smoking only was abandoned later in the USA after several people died of lung cancer. In Paraguay it caused me great problems while serving as Steward because big cuts always had to be made in the purchases of food. But if we ran out of smokes, riders were sent out into the neighborhood by the housekeeper. By the way, it was the same with caa [the local liquor].
The advice from Arnold Mason was, "If you have only one onion, take it as 'a royal gift' to the sisters in the kitchen." But if I wanted to order chocolate or a similar treat for the non-smokers, the money was never available, or at least only once or twice in all those years. Several youngsters told me that they started smoking because there never were any alternative treats available.
On January 30, 1933, I phoned home for my savings book. While waiting for the connection, the operator said, "Just now the radio broadcast the news: Hindenburg has proclaimed Hitler to Reichschancelor!" Eberhard immediately called everyone together to prepare us for the coming persecution.
During 1933, visitors still kept coming, but few stayed. Also, a few members abandoned the sinking ship. I cannot remember when exactly the first visit of the SA, later the Gestapo, took place. But at irregular intervals, the State showed that they had not forgotten us. They closed the Children's Home, prohibited the sale of our books and products, and also the visits of guests. So everything was put into motion to secure a safe place for the community, hopefully in Switzerland. I think it was Adolf Braun who communicated with Anna Schmid in Trogen, who was willing to let us have her place on a temporary basis. Julia Lerchi planned to join us, and gave her savings book to Eberhard from her hospital bed. So it became possible to rent the Kurhaus in Silum in Liechtenstein, which was vacant at that time.
Some of the children were taken to Trogen. Other children, who still did not have papers, were taken by Susi Gravenhorst (Fros-Meier) and Hannes Boller via Tubingen to Switzerland. In Tubingen, my parents had rented the Youth Hostel for the other children. Rudi still had to get his papers from his guardian in Nurnberg, and arrived in the late evening by train where my brother picked him up. As Rudi told me many years later when I visited the Michaelshof, he stayed the night at my parents' house because the gate to the castle (the Youth Hostel) was already closed. Lotte Magee told me that they had to lift parts of the heavy gate in order to slip through.
My parents took care of all the children, but when my mother visited me in March, 1934, on the Rohnbruderhof, she had to leave after three days because of kidney pains caused by the cold wind. Hans Meier refused to let us have the carriage to travel the 12 kilometers to the station at Sterbefritz. He had promised it to Monika and her friend for a ride. Because of the heavy bumps, my mother declined the use of the supply wagon, so I accompanied her on foot.
In 1933 Hitler called for a vote [to abrogate the Versailles Treaty]. Eberhard was of the opinion that we should participate so as not to incur unnecessary difficulties. We should give witness on the ballot that we acknowledged the worldly government, but we felt ourselves called to follow Christ and his commandment of love. The text proposed by Eberhard was discussed passionately in the brotherhood because it contained the more-than-questionable clause, that we acknowledge this task of our beloved leader Adolf Hitler and of the Reichspresident von Hindenberg as given by God.
The beloved leader part did not go down well with everybody. But Eberhard asked us if we really loved all people, to which we had to answer "Yes!" Then Eberhard said: "If we love all people, then Adolf Hitler is included." So we had to write our beloved leader. We all pasted our beloved leader onto our ballots, which then appeared [transformed] the next day as "YES" votes.
This is an example of the leadership technique of Eberhard, but it was regarded as a betrayal of Christ by many of our friends, especially Leon Ragaz, and remained as a heavy lump in the stomachs of many of us. The dissolution of the brotherhood shortly before Eberhard's stay in hospital [where he never awoke from the anesthesia] was a similarly horrible example of total "control." Each day the dissolution of the community by the Gestapo could have occurred, and everyone been carted off to concentration camps. Would anybody, after all the hardships, have found the strength to resist, as, for example, the Jehovah's Witnesses?
Another catastrophe occurred when Eberhard Arnold's coffin arrived in Waldecke and the brotherhood was sent away. Yes, during the night some of the loyals, on orders from above, yelled, "Murderers! Murderers!" into the bedrooms. Bruce Sumner, who (as a guest) was holding the death watch with the baby, Daniel Kaiser (who had been born dead), never has forgotten this horrible experience. Today, Jonestown, Waco and similar communities are a confirmation of what "total loyalty" achieves.
But back to 1934/1935: Eberhard and Emmy traveled a lot between the 'hofs. Strangely, there always was something "happening," something to be cleared up on one 'hof or another. Today one sometimes asks whether these "problems" were not made up in order to keep people in check? Was it not the beginning of a crisis when someone started to think independently, and then it was interpreted as though he or she were "not standing right?" Eberhard and his successors hated the word "democracy" like poison, I would have to say even more than the word "evil." Occasionally the question came up why the leading-astray of a community was not punished as strongly as the sexual sins of certain people -- and I use the word "certain" deliberately.
In March, 1935, General Conscription was introduced in Germany and we, the young men, had to flee, mostly on old bicycles. Some went by rail. Leo Dreher and I were supposed to go via Konstanz to Switzerland. I felt very uncomfortable at this decision, because I suspected that my oldest brother still worked at the Customs office in Konstanz. In Karlsruhe we stayed the night with an uncle of Leo's. He gave us some money for travel and we sent the bikes back by train. We only could take the night train to Konstanz and more or less stayed hidden until the time the first train was due to depart.
We arrived at the station with time to spare, and a Swiss Customs officer gave us friendly advice as to the ticket price (DM 10 only!) and then said, "But I can't let you board the train before my German colleague arrives." You can understand how uncomfortable I felt! But when the train was due to depart, the German colleague had overslept and the Swiss quickly waved us aboard! So we had been held up in Karlsruhe only to experience a miracle! On the Almbruderhof, a lot of work awaited us: Housekeeping, Kleine Sendung (sales trips), hay harvest. The hay had to be carried in great bundles on one's head up the steep slopes. When my father visited me there, he said, "If you have to work this hard, you will never be 30 years old!" (In a few days I will be 81!)
After the first group born in 1915 had left for England, I was elected Steward and was supposed to work an additional six hours daily at bookbinding. Of course that was only possible by working at night. Our beds were in the hay shed, and the bookbinding shop was located where everybody else lived, so the others often were disturbed during the night. Being of Alsace origin, I would have had to join the armies of both Germany AND France, and so had to fly to England on Nov 22, 1936 (the baptism day of Bruce Sumner and Balz Trumpi.) Erich Hasenberg accompanied me to the bus for Triesenberg. In those days the aeroplanes only had seats for 12-15 passengers. While over the Channel, I wondered why we were flying so low over the water. Instead of Croydon airport where Herman Arnold was to meet me, we landed near Dover. Herman was doing an apprenticeship in book sales and publishing, and was bringing my visa.
On the airfield stood a big Piper Cub or similar with the big inscription 'Wilh. Gustloff.' When the German pilot saw me in possible trouble because my English consisted only of "Home Office," he came and stood next to me. But the airport employees were very helpful. After scrutinizing my small suitcase, they telephoned both the Home Office and Croydon. It took about two hours until it was evident that Herman had my visa with him elsewhere. All the other passengers probably were very relieved when it was decided to stop and board us all on a Dover-London express train. Herman and I then met at Victoria Station.
Now, regarding the exorcism of evil spirits that Emmy Arnold wrote about in Gegen den Strom [Torches Together] the difficult struggles that happened in 1926 with Lotte Henze, Eberhard also mentions this on pages 80-82 of Schwere Zeit [Difficult Time?] In total, 15 of the 200 pages of Gegen den Strom are devoted to Lotte.
After a visit to Bruce in 1980, which included an Aussprache with Hans Meier and Arnold Mason, I took part in a conference of the Religious Socialists in Lerback (near Cologne). The speaker, Siegfried K, mentioned in a talk that I was much more to the "LEFT" than he, since I had lived for many years on the B'hof in the communism of the early Christians. This attracted the attention of a few other participants, amongst them some from the Laurentians (near total community of goods) who wanted to know more. One woman waited until most people had left and then asked me, "Do you know what happened to the daughter of Dr. Eberhard Arnold that was conceived during the 'exorcism of evil spirits' out of Lotte Henze?" - which question left me utterly speechless!
Unfortunately, during the two days of the conference I was unable to follow up this contact with her. Also I was quite sure that the B'hof would not help, but would attack me. I was unable to identify the woman from among all the participants, nor was I able to learn more during subsequent inquiries.
During the following years I asked several ex- members, since the name "Lotte Henze" had to be known to someone somewhere. Only Luise Sumner knew Lotte H., because she once had shared a room with her. In 1983 Gegen den Strom was published, and I was very surprised at the report. On page 83, Emmy Arnold writes that Lotte reappeared during the Nazi time (1937?) with the child, but that Lotte with the child was sent away, although Lotte, being a Communist, was certain to end up in a concentration camp and almost certainly ended her life there. That they did not accept this child is, under normal circumstances, more than just surprising. Apparently the child grew up with [Arnold] relatives in Nordhausen, from whom Traindel Kleiner heard of it. Bette B-Zumpe asked me about this because she wanted to show "this aunt" something of the love denied the aunt by the [Arnold] family.
When a brother who had been separated from his family for months in 1933 or '34 succumbed to the same sin while on sendung in Switzerland, I remember how desperately he confronted the brotherhood. He was castigated with nine months of exclusion and in addition he was never to be considered for Servant of the Word because of the publicity. When in June, 1938, during our honeymoon, the voting for the Servant of the Word took place, A.Br. and A.N. were elected, because A.Br. was a loving, humble brother. But this election was not accepted by the "election committee," so a second election was held.
During this election, the question was put, "Have you got anything against Heini as Servant?" Bruce was then "elected" second Servant and was sent with Heini as Servant to Oaksey. During the preparation for the elections, one heard, of course, several names mentioned and also some of Eberhard's sayings. But I always said, "If we apply the Hutterite formula during acceptance that all sin shall be sunk in the sea of forgiveness, God can and will create something new, then we should also do this."
After my wife Else's and my return, Emmy came to me and said, "What do you think, Bertel, about Heini's election? That is the punishment of God, that nobody listened to the elders"! That really puzzled me, because Emmy was always making propaganda for Heini. But as was evident later, it was the "turning point" in that history. Emmy's word "punishment of God" was to become true, as was evident much later! And in a manner in which no one could have foreseen.
After the Religious Socialist conference at Lerbach, 1980, I looked back and felt more and more astonished at how Eberhard Arnold allowed himself to be given the title of "spokesman." When Lotte reappeared in 1937 with the child, all the Arnold woman wept, as was revealed to me by a dependable source. Apparently in order to divert the scandal from the family, Lotte was sent away with the child. Also it was not made known in the Brotherhood. Yet think of how children, especially later in Paraguay, were punished when they wanted to know the difference between boys and girls! With up to two years of exclusion, partly on other 'hofs away from their families and without going to school! For many of these children, now grown-ups, KIT has been a mouthpiece. Hopefully many will relieve and free themselves of this horror. Many of these trials were instigated by the children themselves, because if their "own sins" were less evident than in others, they were more apt to stay out of trouble.
Today I question many things that happened in the treatment of children. Wasn't the "impurity" put into the children by the grown-ups, partly through aiming harassing questions at them during talks? I remember one instance in particular.
Else and I wanted to break though the "enlightenment [regarding boy-girl differences] behind hedges and fences." When the new dining room was being built in Isla, Elizabeth was 4 - 5 years old. I don't remember what she asked me, but my answer was, "Oh that was before your mother carried you under her heart."
Balz was standing nearby and heard this. He took me aside. "One shouldn't burden children too early with this problem," he said. "A girl can go into marriage without knowing the facts of life." Elizabeth told me later that when her other siblings were "in difficulties," she never had any troubles "because they knew" (because I had spoken with her and Hans-Jacob). Anyway, I never intended to explain the facts of life to the child, but only to explain "that happened a long time ago." That the child might inquire where he or she came from was secondary. It was probably a better statement than what Balz's wife later told a 13-year-old girl when explaining the facts of life, namely, that an angel would tell the woman when she would have a child! The fairy tale of the stork as an angel! I would have thought the ruling personage more intelligent and experienced, or I would not have asked for this talk. Or was it perhaps that the ruling personages experienced or saw creation as dirty?
When Hans-Jacob was in the First Grade, Hans- Herman Arnold came to me and said that I should give him a good beating, because he, H.H.A., and Franzi could not cope with him. I did that, and Hans-Jacob has never forgotten this. Of course the teachers didn't only pass out corporal punishment or give better marks to their favorites. I clearly remember Georg Barth and H.H.A. wanted to put me in exclusion because I proposed a one- language school so that we didn't end up with illiterates in three languages. I wanted to "drag down the quality of education!" But E. B. had told me that only 1/3 of the children were able to cope [with multi-lingual classes].
I don't want to denigrate the work of all teachers. When Hans-Jacob was 20 and attended the trade college, the teacher took time and successfully advanced him. The same for Herbert (Nath). Both took their journeymen exams successfully, and Elizabeth as a nurse. After 1964, Gottfried helped us with our house, being an untrained workman.
I will probably not write a comprehensive report about all these times. Since starting it, I have not been able to sleep properly at night. But I will continue with a compilation of my "slogans." They will show you that there's much more than these "points" to be talked about.
A) When viewing the critical times, one can see that Eberhard Arnold originally thought of starting a "suburban settlement," but then perhaps because of Emmy, who during these times of poverty (1920-23) thought that village life might provide a better way of life, followed the example of the Habertshof group. 1922 saw the first crisis. As we know, the idea of community of goods existed in many hearts, which resulted in a "palace revolution" while Eberhard and Emmy were in Holland, which brought them back to Sannerz quickly. Otto Herpel, Heinrich Schurtheis, Otto Salomon (whose many songs are probably still sung on the 'hofe) and many more (30 or 40 people it has been said) independently seeking and thinking people lived in Sannerz at that time. Many of those who left during this first crisis went to Max and Maria Zink, later Emil Blum and wife, to the Habertshof, together with the debt- laden publishing house, or at least remained religious socialists.
Sometimes the question poses itself: "Were the four von Hollander sisters (Emmy, Moni, Else, Olga) and the two young teachers (Trudi, Hugga) really only moved by the Holy Spirit when they placed themselves around the not-even-forty-year-old Eberhard?"
B) Again a question: In 1926, was there really, after the "fall" in Sannerz, no one sufficiently spiritually gifted so that Eberhard Arnold had to retain the leadership? Today, the witnesses are no longer alive. Did Eberhard Arnold's example become Heini's ideal and thus make Eberhard infallible? Dissolutions of brotherhoods, 'hofs, came about via the same means that crises were brought into being in order to maintain the power of The Family. When Primavera became "unprofitable," Herman told me a long time before it was sold just how it would be divided. Even the Rice Project, which was paid for by government subsidies, was not bringing in anything.
After Eberhard Arnold decided on his own that the union with the Hutterites would take place, "Hugga" left (see Zuruck Oh Mensch, a booklet describing the early Socialist communities), and Olga and Else died of tuberculosis. Eberhard loved to recount that the Hutterites wanted to see him as Bishop over all, as a Peter Ridemann. Was there an official inquiry?
It was probably 1942-43 when Hans Zumpe, after the first period of crisis, made the suggestion that all Servants of the Word should resign. After a period of reflection, there should be new elections. Only Heini did not agree, although he wasn't even in the Service, not having been confirmed. Every one of us in the brotherhood should have accused Heini of a hunger for power. I likewise stand to this. Anyway, I had attracted attention at this time because of my non-participation in the singing at Heini's guava-hut bedside because I thought Heini was play-acting at being at death's door, (by the way, also Erich Hasenberg). Through this trick, Heini got himself up to the top.
1948 was roughly the time that the "thing" with Mike Caine occurred, from which Heini later contracted a hellish fear of Mike and surrounded himself with bodyguards. In the 1950s he invited one Servant of the Word after another to Woodcrest and then excluded them, a well-tested trick in times of crisis. We were stupid enough not to notice that in this way, brotherhood decisions were circumvented. Probably the same kind of trick, or a similar one, is now being employed with the Jake Kleinsasser crisis.
Union with the Hutterites is, without doubt, the work of Eberhard Arnold. Or was there ever a brotherhood decision? Was the union sought because of the Rhon bruderhof's desperate need for financial help? Would a spiritual union have made it possible for Eberhard to give up smoking, especially in view of his tuberculosis?
The "Hutterite Question" often put a great strain upon everyone. "We can talk it over after the love meal" was often promised, but never happened. Questions and answers to this are found in Zuruck Oh Mensch. In1933- 35, Eberhard should have undertaken the journeys to the government offices (Berlin, Kassel, etc.) himself. A few journeys were made by Hans Meier, who was Swiss (and of course Hans Zumpe). What sorrow the circle had to carry in this spiritual fight, that even the brothers in Waldecke were chased away by members of the family [when Eberhard's coffin arrived]! If the Gestapo at this juncture had captured members and thrown them into concentration camps, who would have had the strength to see it all through as, for instance, the aforementioned Jehovah's Witnesses?
I have written little about the years 1935-1960 because there are enough witnesses in KIT. Gestapo on the Rhon Bruderhof, Silum [Liechtenstein], Oaksey [England] to Paraguay on ten ships across the submarine-infested Atlantic. The Avila Star ship was sunk after the trip with our last group. Only five survived after floating on the ocean for three weeks! And crisis, crisis, crisis! The enthronement of Heini, exclusions, times of reflections. Visits by Wipf and Company, Woodcrest and the "spirit" of Woodcrest, Primavera dissolved...
These were years of struggle, also for the "plain brothers." Always a power struggle around the Arnolds, recognizable through the oft-mentioned demand to be thankful that the Arnolds had taken so much upon themselves! Had not the others also fiven everything and given up everything??
Everyone noticed that there was a lot of enthusiasm in the new beginning in Sinntal, 1960-61. That was why the first crisis in March/April, 1961, started -- because of a decreasing enthusiasm during singing. Jorg B. called his father in Bulstrode every evening and the brotherhood waited to see if something was happening! Easter, 1961, two of my brothers brought the rest of my inheritance, saved by my father for the education of his grandchildren, 1/2 to Woodcrest, 1/4 to Sinntal and only 1/4 to Primavera. They were, of course, not permitted to attend the meeting. My sister-in-law took the opportunity to remark that some of us lived "more equally" than other. Two weeks later, there was a brotherhood meeting because my daughter Emely had brought some magazines with her from the guest house where she worked. Joseph Nacht, who had been invited to the family supper, got annoyed yet again, for the second time, about the "poison" that I had not opposed [the magazines].
My brothers wanted to take each of our children in turn into their families so that their children would get to know us. Gottfried was the first one, but although I had asked for "permission," I had to call him back after just about two weeks. In the meantime, the brotherhoods dealing with "the poison" had continued.
After a reprimand in the afternoon brotherhood, I was offered a "time of consideration." Else, who was quite upset, was advised to go with me. After a collect call to my brother Gottfried to see if he had a few weeks' work for me, he came in his Isetta. After the warm welcome he had received two weeks earlier, he was amazed to be treated so coldly and without greetings. Only Albert Wegner and Otto Kaiser greeted him. These experiences show why there couldn't be any enthusiasm on the 'hof. There was a total lack of "order."
Whether Heini or another engineered the great exclusions, I don't know. That the Servant in Woodcrest did not want to be part to "this hypocrisy" came as quite a surprise to some. And that he had made private arrangements for a new commercial beginning was noy known to anyone.
Some will ask, "How did you manage to survive the 28 years?" Lots of people know of the sects and the brain-washing, the "absolute obedience" and the complete surrender there. That was the same with us. It was not only I who had to learn to think anew, which is so apparent from many letters to KIT. Some have had to have psychological or psychiatric help. Apparently even today, many are carrying the damage around with them. To my mind, it is good that the children in the Society of Brothers today have to attend public schools.
These are only examples. Many things were kept secret, which later resulted in crises. If there had not been amongst members, and especially the "plain" ones, so much love and real, truthful searching for rectification, there would not have been community again and again, and the life together would not have lasted so long.
I am glad that the Bruderhofe, even though Annemarie said "We are not a home for the old," have found a way to accept some responsibility, especially for the older ones. And I am especially happy that the "unfair state" [in the outside world] gave me the opportunity to enjoy my whole family. That not everyone has had this prerogative is one of the facets of KIT.
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