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SEE KIT XI #3 PART I FOR THE PREVIOUS SECTION
------ Table of Contents --------
---- excerpts alt.support.bruderhof continued----
Ben Cavanna, Dave Goodwin, Blair Purcell
Wayne Chesley, Paul Forde, Paul Fox,
Mike LeBlanc, Mel Fros Wayne Chesley
Blair Purcell, Betty Chesley
Emil Fischli - 'Memoir Part I'
Mel Fros - New Verses In Old Tunes
Ben Cavanna, 2/14/99: Some commonly held assumptions about the Bruderhof:
They are Christian.
They are interested in doing the right thing.
They endeavor to behave in an honest and honorable fashion.
They are consistent.
They are poor.
They practise non-violence.
They do not believe in initiating lawsuits.
They are humble.
They are respectful of others beliefs and views.
They hold family in high regard.
They have not helped members to divorce.
They are a classless society.
They believe in equality of all.
They will report all crimes to the relevant authorities.
They do not act in a Hypocritical fashion.
Their word is their bond.
They put their trust in God.
They do not lie.
They do not swear.
They would never indulge in entrapment.
The question that I have is: On what basis would you believe the above statements to be true?
You (Dave Goodwin) have documented the most recent go-round of the fairground ride taken by amongst others: Ramon Sender, Blair Purcell, Mike Leblanc, Ben Cavanna, MCS et al.
It makes me so sad.
(Ex-child of the Bruderhof denied access to my beloved and very aged parents and three siblings and many nephews and nieces for the past two-and-a- half years.)
Dave Goodwin, 2/15/99: Hello Ben, My answer is: I will believe any of these assumptions to be true when I see consistent evidence to support the statement. Either first hand or other concrete evidence that is believable to me would suffice. Lately, the majority of the evidence I have seen would lead me to say many of these assumptions are false. When I carefully questioned their spokespersons on some of these issues they responded: A. The problem is your own great spiritual pride. B. No response at all. C. After reviewing your concerns we see no point in dialog.
But let me turn the question about all of these assumptions around and ask myself: Am I always consistent, non-violent, humble, respectful, trusting in God, truthful, etc. The short answer is no. But I do try to be these things with the help of Christ and do my best to correct where I have failed or continue to fail.
The first item on the list: "They are Christians" I think falls into a different category than the others because it is not a stand alone virtue or failure like the others. I don't think there is really such a thing as a "Christian organization", although there are many organizations made up of Christians in whole or in part. I believe the Bruderhof fits into this category somewhere. I learned way too much of what I consider good in my present belief system from them to discount all bruderhof people or all their actions from being Christian. As long as they profess to be Christian, I can gladly appeal to them on such terms while being careful to never condone what is wrong. I am glad that God is the holy and righteous judge on such matters.
May the love of Christ shine out!
Blair Purcell, 2/23/99 23: Hi David, thank you for your continued good will and appreciation of the "good" side of the Bruderhof. Those of us who never lived there only know that side through folks like yourself or our spouses. We, who married former Bruderhofers, surely were attracted to them as much by the nature of their upbringing as any other factor. They are inherently good people.
You comment in regards to your recent meetings with a number of Bruderhoffers and how they respond to your efforts at dialogue:
A. The problem is your own great spiritual pride.
B. No response at all.
C. After reviewing your concerns we see no point in dialog.
This has been the most frustrating aspect of trying to understand and interact with the "institutional" Bruderhof. They somehow find themselves unable to actually engage the questions raised. It doesn't seem to matter from which perspective you approach the question, i. e., spiritual (as you have so often and so clearly), legal (as in, please stop doing that; someone may end up in jail), moral (how can it be appropriate to rend fathers and mothers from their children?) or ethical (why was it neccesary to use the love of a grandparent for grandchildren to serve a $15,000,000.00 lawsuit?).
Ben's statement of "Commonly Held Assumptions" surely covers all of these ponts and more. It really appears the Bruderhof representatives with whom I have spoken simply don't care to address the questions that separate them from so many who really care about the Bruderhof and their families who live there. They won't say they don't care; they just go back to Dave's points A, B and C...
People of good will can surely find a common ground when common ground is genuinely sought.
Wayne Chesley, 12/6/98: I do truly see a difference between the Bruderhof and conservative Anabaptist groups like your own. The term cult is quite abused, to be sure, but I think there are "cult watch" groups who have a reasonable handle on what constitutes dangerous and irreligious practices in groups commonly called "cults".
Certainly I would not call the Bruderhof a cult because of ther espousal of a hard and self sacrificial path to God. If that is someone's definition of a cult, then so be it -- the same person would classify many of the Catholic orders as cults. And the fact that the Bruderhof is communal, hierarchical, or patriarchal also does not distinguish it from other Christian sects.
I think the criteria I posted at my web site: http://w3.ime.net/~wchesley/bruderhof/what_is_a_cult. html (which originally came from the Bruderhof web site) gives a good working definition of "cult" characteristics, for the purpose of raising a red flag and questioning the organizational legitimacy of a group like the Bruderhof. Remember too, as frightful as it might sound, Jonestown started out quite differently than it later became. It is better to raise the red flag early than to see a group lose control and fall into disaster.
Peter Forde, 12/6/98: To your comment about cult monitoring: "Later I looked up the word "cult" in Websters and have since then considered it a compliment to be told I belong to a cult. The main definition is: A system or community of religious worship and ritual.'
"Others state something to the effect of complete devotion or worship of some man or leader. I wish to follow Jesus Christ in such a way! All true Christians belong to this wonderful "cult". Some of the remaining definitions seem to always receive the attention with phrases such as "faddish devotion" or "sect considered to be extremist or bogus". Even these definition have been applied often to Christ's followers down through the years."
I find your comment entirely valid. And if I'd merely affirmed my view that Bruderhof is a full-blown cult in those words then my description was inadequate. How about "A full-blown destructive cult"?
The thing about cults is that they use authoritarian practices which debilitate of the participant's ability to think. This isn't free participation but a form of mind-enslavement.
Nearly everybody tends to read cults, or rather, destructive cults as just another grouping, and then conclude the mass suicides or murders as inexplicable. That same ignorance considers people who enter such groups as gullible, thinking, "It couldn't happen to me that I'd be persuaded to commit murder or suicide, or to prostitute myself."
What happens in a destructive cult is a progression of small steps and changes, each one acceptable by itself, but progressing from generating a want to shutting down criticism, to alienation from outside opinion, to undue dependency on the cult leader and his imposed ideology. If people knew at the outset what they were letting themselves in for they would never join, but a prime feature of destructive cults is secrecy, where the wider picture is hidden from the outsider or newcomer.
Ethical counsellors don't counter this authoritarianism with kidnap-deprogramming (more authoritarianism), but instead restore the participant's links with family and instruct them in the technology of mind control, with reference made to other groups or destructive cults rather than the one they're in. The participant for being informed about authoritarian practices and their psychological effects thus gains the tools needed to view any such practices in their own group and thus to now make informed decision whether they want to stay in. If that group turns out to be authoritarian and the counselled participant sees that, then they may well decide to leave the group. But if the counselled person decides to stay, both counsellor and the relatives who hired them are assured that the group participant has the tools needed to think and that a proper choice is likely to have been made.
Destructive cults are very destructive -- it takes years for a person to rehabilitate his or her ability to think and make decisions. In my case it took upwards of 12 years to purge Scientology's ideas from my head, and most people don't rehabilitate but simply move to splinter groups.
For more information on cults in general see http://www.snafu.de/~tilman
For my own debunk on Scientology, and statement of my involvement and rehabilitation, look in Tilman Hausherr's page for "personal statements," then "The 3 bear traps." Peace,
Paul C. Fox to Mike LebLanc, 12/6/98: Dear Mike, I don't think we are in any disagreement as to the facts about the Bruderhof. However, I am convinced that the word "cult" -- though it may apply according to the careful definition you use -- is counterproductive.
Like it or not, "cult" has become a pejorative word, and therefore tends to make people stop listening. It provokes a strong negative reaction -- but often the reaction is against the person using the word to describe a group, rather than the group described.
If we want to reach people who are already positively disposed toward the Bruderhof, whether current members or sympathetic outsiders, then I think we should eschew the use of the word "cult," and use terms which are more descriptive and meaningful, such as "abusive church," or "mind-controlling organization." And, most importantly, we need to document that these descriptions apply.
Of course, you can continue to use the word "cult" if you like -- it's a free country. I'm just suggesting that in doing so you are actually decreasing the chances that your postings will change anybody's mind about the Bruderhof. Yours,
Mike LeBlanc, 12/8/98: Why I believe the Bruderhof is a cult. After an expansion of Lifton's characteristics, I wanted to follow it up with why I see the Bruderhof as a destructive cult. I do this in hope that their road to eventual decline can be turned into a renewal for its membership. Opening up of the Bruderhof to change and meaningful discussion with its ex-members and children would go a long way to bring positive change. Holding up the Bruderhof to close scrutiny about the difference between its espoused beliefs and how it acts can only will benefit the group in the long run. I am only doing what they taught me... to live my life the way I think Christ would have me. I cannot suborn my relationship to God either to a group or another individual...
Need I post, why I think the Bruderhof is a cult again? If we believe the term is pejorative, and are afraid of using it, then we are lost!
The whole issue is not whether people in the community want to follow Jesus. It's the system! What keeps our loved ones from voicing their conscience? Why is Christoph still in power?
This is not a matter of Webster definition. This is not just a "breakaway" sect of the true Church. The Bruderhof uses techniques that are viewed by cult experts and ex-cult survivors as cultic. This would make the Bruderhof a cult. Period. End of story.
This is the Bruderhof on the "drug" of power, greed, and corruption of "what might have been in the name of Christ". Any questions?
Mel Fros, 12/7/98: Mike LeBlanc wrote: "Need I post why I think the Bruderhof is a cult again? If we believe the term is pejorative, and are afraid of using it, then we are lost!
"The whole issue is not whether people in the community want to follow Jesus. It's the system! What keeps our loved ones from voicing their conscience? Why is Christoph still in power?"
Hi Mike: I see Paul's point clearly. Though you may be correct when it comes to "cold facts" you also need to take into consideration that a reader of your posts may be very sympathetic to the "people in the community (who) want to follow Jesus." I can name names! Some have spoken to me in private and revealed the true longings of their hearts. We need to have great respect for them even as we wonder how they are able to continue in the path of faith under the "leadership" of Christoph and his assistants. We need to pray that God grants them the wisdom and the _courage_ to confront what they _know_ to be evil. It would seem helpful, therefore to distinguish between "the system" and people, our loved ones, who are trapped within it; immobilized by the known consequences of speaking up.
Wayne Chesley, 12/8/98: One thing I appreciate about this forum, and others, is the diversity of perspectives and opinions. If I were a supporter of the Bruderhof, or someone headed there, I would likely pay more attention to a multitude of voices, than a monolithic "voice of the opposition". In fact, that is what the Bruderhof portrays it's critics as being -- a monolithic organization called KIT, whose actions are directed by Ramon Sender. Well I think this forum, and this discussion, shows clearly that it's not true.
I have long preferred the middle ground of referring to the Bruderhof's "cult like characteristics" with an explanation of what I mean by that. Sometimes, in the proper context, I more directly refer to the Bruderhof as a "cult", or Christoph as a "cult leader". I hope that anyone interested will investigate what I mean when I use this label, or seek to learn why anyone would use this label.
Again, I think the diversity of perspectives lends credence to the warnings and grievances the Bruderhof's critics have to offer. I only have one criticism of anyone holding the opinion that the Bruderhof maintains practices that are associated with groups popularly called "cults": you mustn't remain silent, and you should speak out plainly and truthfully. People like myself and my family could have been spared a lot of pain if others had spoken out in an effective way. If you think the Bruderhof is a cult, then don't be afraid to say so. The failure to publish the truth, inside the Bruderhof or outside, only empowers the leadership of, pardon the phrase, cult-like groups.
I find it interesting too that even the Bruderhof has it's opinion about what groups are cults (Moonies for example) and what are not.
Blair Purcell, 12/8/98: Homeycabin wrote: "I tend to shy away from labeling any group such as the Bruderhof as a cult unless they approach the cultishness of groups such as Koresh', Moon's, Jones, etc. I agree that the Bruderhof exhibits a number of cultlike characteristics."
Aside from spiritual matters (theologians differ all the time), I would be concerned about ANY group, religious, corporate (or both!) that pursued patently illegal activities in pursuit of its goals. To hide these illegal activities from its own membership (do they?) or to deceive the membership about their true nature (as in, "oh, it's a toll-free number; they must want us to call") is one VERY significant measure by which I would describe a "cultish" group. It is understood that to use a pejorative word to describe a group engaged in perjorative activities may, in some cases, be counter-productive. On the other hand, this group earned it.
One has to agree with Wayne -- if one knows from personal, first-hand experience that a group sets out to deceive, then there is an obligation to warn others and to try to awaken the conscience of those within. To stand silent in the presence of wrong-doing is to actively condone the sin.
Betty Chesley 12/07/98 Mel Fros wrote "... you also need to take into consideration that a reader of your posts may be very sympathetic to the "people in the community (who) want to follow Jesus."
I can name names!
"Some have spoken to me in private and revealed the true longings of their hearts. We need to have great respect for them even as we wonder how they are able to continue in the path of faith under the 'leadership' of Christoph and his assistants. We need to pray that God grants them the wisdom and the courage to confront what they know to be evil."
Thank you for these thoughts, Mel. The very same thing has been much on my heart, too.
From the December, 1998, Gatekeeper ('Gateway to Joy,'
That the Great Angel-blinding Light should shrink
His blaze, to shine in a poor Shepherd's eye;
That the unmeasur'd God so low should sink,
As Pris'ner in a few poor rags to lie;
That from His Mother's Breast He milk should drink,
Who feeds with Nectar Heaven's fair family,
That in a vile Manger His low Bed should prove
Who in a Throne of stars thunders above;
That He whom the sun serves, should faintly peep
Through clouds of Infant Flesh! That He, the old
Eternal Word should be a child, and weep;
That He who made the fire, should fear the cold,
That Heaven's high Majesty His Court should keep
In a clay cottage, by each blast control'd;
That Glories self should serve our Griefs and fears,
And free Eternity submit to years,
Let our overwhelming wonder be.
May we continue to hope in Him who is our True and Only Hope! Blessings,
Memoirs (Part I)
by Emil Fischli
Translated from the German by Susannah Alves Levy
The year was 1939, and the terrible threat of war hung over England. One night, we saw a red glow on the far horizon. Coventry burned as it was being bombed. All around, it was pitch-black, no street-lamps were burning, not a light brightened our windows. Everything was blacked out so as not to offer the "enemy" any clues. The ominous death-threatening drone of the bombers flying high above could be heard everywhere. White-hot rays like tracing fingers searched the night-sky for the bombers. The moment a group was found, exploding grenades flashed as they were fired from anti-aircraft cannons. A fascinating display? No, a fascinating play of death whose actors were seen as heroes, even to this day. Once, a single bomber, cut off from his formation, flew over our fields and dropped one last bomb. I can still hear the whistling sound as it steadily increased. It seemed as if it was heading directly towards me, and shaking, I threw myself down. A blast, but luckily the crater was a few hundred metres away and did not do any major damage.
Concrete blocks a meter in height were distributed in our larger fields and meadows, and ditches dug out to protect against German airborne troops. We suffered no other material damage.
But it was war that stood at our door. We were surrounded by a sense of endemic distrust. The neighbours, country folk, were muttering that our German members might be elements of the insidious German Fifth Column. We had to reinforce our unarmed night watchmen. In the neighbouring villages a Civil Guard was founded, made up of small groups armed with hunting rifles, revolvers and long knives. Once one of these groups, consisting mostly of young people, tried to set alight a solitary haystack on one of our fields, but the fire was quickly put out.
Our neighbours, intimidated because of Hitler's victorious advances, went with their grievances about us to their Member of Parliament, who in turn went to the British Government. Orders came that our German members were not to leave the hof, and worse, we were given an ultimatum: either all Germans went into internment on the Isle-of-Man or the whole community had to leave the country. As separation from our German members was unimaginable, we chose emigration.
But go where? In these times of war! All around England the successful German submarines lay in waiting, and aerial warfare raged.
Two brothers, my brother-in-law Hans Meier and Guy Johnson, an English solicitor, went to the United States of America. They hoped to find refuge for us with the Hutterites in the U.S. or Canada. Although they tried everything to obtain immigration permits -- they even met with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was very sympathetic -- they were consistently turned down. They tried not only in Washington but also in Canada, Alaska, and Mexico. None of those countries wanted to have us. Of course, we were conscientious objectors, unwilling to bear arms --Ęnot a very encouraging prerequisite in the minds of the host countries we approached.
But one door that did open -- at the Mennonite Central Committee, the MCC. The Hutterites, the Mennonites and the Amish all have their roots in the times of the Reformation. Because of their pacifism they travelled along painful roads that share many similarities. In the years between the two World Wars, many Mennonites, often quite orthodox, left the U.S. and Canada to settle in Paraguay. The Paraguayan Government was very generous and assured them full religious freedom. Their sons and descendants born there were exempted from military service. We were assured the same rights.
The largest Mennonite settlements were in the Paraguayan Chaco, an enormous, sandy area covered in thorny scrub, practically deserted. The Mennos, as they call themselves, assured us their hospitality and help with the construction work. So now all we needed to do was set out for South America.
In England, a great number of young people as well as some older ones had joined the Bruderhof. We then numbered around three hundred souls. A third farm had been added, various dwellings were raised, workshops and a printing shop set up. What we had built up and created with such enthusiasm in the past five years was now all to be left behind, because we were determined to remain together.
In the summer of 1938, the Liechtenstein community had to be closed down, and all its members, large and small, had been happily welcomed in the Cotswold Bruderhof. With them also came Hilde's parents Adolf and Elsa Hundhammer, with their children Elli, Karl, Inge and Hans. The parents were thinking of joining the community.
Adolf was made very welcome. In addition to his enthusiasm and thorough craftsmanship as a cartwright, he also brought along his tools. So it wasn't long before he was setting up a carpenter's shop. Karl, Adolf's son, had just finished his carpentry apprenticeship and helped his father. As jack-of-all- trades, he also helped install the new flour mill. He took on the job of grinding our home-grown wheat and rye. The whole-grain meal was then made into healthy, tasty bread.
Hilde's mother Elsa was a rather shy woman but her luminous blue eyes suggested a deep soul. She had left behind her a very hard life. Her oldest daughter, Gerda, had been born very soon after the wedding. Gerda had stayed behind in the Sudentenland, with her husband Erwin.
Elli, a pretty-eighteen-year-old, had a great love for children. Tiny Michael Caine, a small baby, was given into her foster care at that time. Michael's mother was unable to keep her child. After Elli learned a little English, she went for a nurse's training in a London hospital.
Inge was a schoolgirl full of good humour. She wore her long fair hair in two thick plaits that reached to her waist.
The youngest of the Hundhammer family was Hans, dark-haired with large dark eyes, a dreamer's face.
During the First World War, Adolf, my father-in-law, had served actively for some years as cavalryman. Once back home after the war, he had a hard time trying to keep and feed his wife and the children. Luckily there was a generous baker's wife in the village who quietly slipped the children bread loaves under the counter.
As Sudeten-Germans, the family had suffered painful discrimination. Then Hitler arrived to carry the Sudeten-Germans triumphantly back home into the arms of the Third Reich. Now, suddenly, the Germans were the masters and the Czechs the serfs. Adolf Hundhammer read the book Mein Kampf with great interest, and Hitler's < I>Ordnungstruppen SA & SS eradicated unemployment, this was undeniable. Socially, too, a number of things had been achieved, such as the so-called 'Winter Help' (Winterhilfe) and 'Strength through Joy' (Kraft durch Freude). Add to this the 'elevation' of the Aryan race to the 'noblest of human races,' well above all other 'lesser peoples.' To belong to the Third Reich was something special, he found.
At that point in time, in the community, the 'fight against private ownership' had once again been announced. This referred particularly to wristwatches and pocket watches. All of them were to be handed over for re-distribution to all those who needed them most for their particular kind of work or tasks. So now young Hans Hundhammer was expected to hand in his very precious pocket watch that meant so much to him. It had been a confirmation gift from his godparents. As the community leader at that time insisted firmly on the surrender of the watch, this was the drop that made the cup run over. Adolf packed his bags and departed, to return with wife and children Inge and Hans to Rossbach in the Sudetenland.
I do not know how the Hundhammers fared. Some years later we heard that Hans had been conscripted into the army and was killed in the very last days of the war.
My own parents, commonly known on the Werkhof and in the Bruderhof as 'Father and Mother Fischli', were still living in the Schlehstud, that modern wooden flat-roof house built by my brother Hans, the up-and-coming architect. High above the lake of Zurich, with the best views, surrounded by meadows and orchards, it was the ideal home for their old age. After the death of my aunt Thildy, Mother's sister, my father and mother didn't feel too comfortable anymore. The blind Thildy wasn't there requiring their help. Hans with his wife Olgi occupied the top part of the house and was living a rather private life that included only his artistic circle. My sister Marei had emigrated to Argentina and started a family there with her Danish husband, Sven Rasmussen. My other siblings, Margrit, Trudi (in the Bruderhof known as 'Trautel') and myself plus the eight grandchildren -- the Meier's KlŠusli (Klaus), Dresli (Andreas) and Danni (Daniel), the Dreher's Biasli (Tobias), Maidi (Magdalena) and Eveli (Eva) -- were in England in the community. We had a Seppli (Josef) and a Sanneli (Susanna).
My mother was full of motherliness but not soft. She could be quite stern, yes, sometimes even hard. By then she had already lost most of her sight. Her hearing, however, was excellent and she had a great gift for sensing the character of the person with whom she was dealing. She would so much have liked to feel and hear her grandchildren. Mother was very inclined towards the life in the Bruderhof where she had visited frequently and often would liked to have stayed.
My father by now felt uncomfortable to be viewed as pertaining to the upper middle class, a home owner living high above the lake on the so-called Goldkueste (Gold Coast). So my parents, still young at heart, made the decision to spend a longer visit with the Bruderhof in England. They wanted to discover if they fitted into the community in everything, spiritually, psychologically and materially. They were made very welcome and we had happy times together.
There was to be a wedding. Added to the customary questions put to bride and bridegroom according to Hutterite teachings, something extra was asked of the betrotheds: "Should, during your lifetime, one or the other suffer shipwreck in your faith, then each one individually must remain primarily loyal to the Church. Will you promise this?"
My father could not agree to this fundamental question. For him, a true marriage was something divine that was not to be subordinated to a community principle. So he decided to return with mother to the Schlehstud in Meilen, although mother would have loved to stay with her children and grandchildren and all the others in the community with whom she felt a great kinship.
When our third child -- little Johannes Gottlieb -- was born on Advent Sunday the 1st of December 1940, they had already departed. The little boy had dark hair and dark eyes that looked with great curiosity at the surrounding world. Hilde had some experience by now with new-born babies, so he thrived without problems in his first few months.
Looking back, I can now see that although we were sorry that my parents took the decision they took, today I am glad about it. They were thus spared much nerve-racking, painful soul-searching and spiritual anguish during later times of community crises.
Our first group of travellers, about sixty people, had already departed. They arrived in Buenos Aires just in time for Christmas. We were in great fear for them because during that time German submarines were lurking everywhere in the Atlantic. Our family had been assigned to travel with the second group that was to depart in mid-February of 1941.
The second group numbered about one hundred, large and small. Our two suitcases had already been packed and we were waiting for the call to be on our way. Because of the submarine hazard, the departure dates of all transatlantic ships were being kept a strict secret.
It was on a misty, wet and cold morning when the announcement suddenly came: "Get everything ready for boarding." A number of buses stood ready. Gottlieb, our two-and-a-half-month-old baby, was held safely in Hilde's arms. Leonard, a young, single man who had been allocated as our helper, had Sanneli on his, and I took Seppli.
Arriving at the seaport of Liverpool, we were put up at cheap 'sailor hotels.' Streamlined balloons hovered across the whole port area, anchored to wire cables. They were there to protect the ships and port installations from attacks by German dive-bombers.
Next morning we boarded our vessel and moved into the ample, comfortably furnished cabins. Our ocean liner belonged to the Blue Star Line and was called Avila Star, a large, fast refrigerator ship used mainly for carrying frozen cattle carcasses from Argentina. Located above the hold, the cabins, nicely fitted out with all sorts of luxuries, offered accomodations for -- or should I say, were intended to spoil -- one hundred-and-fifty first class passengers.
While we slowly explored the premises, such as dining room, lounge, bar, music room, reading room and the dance floor, Seppli asked, somewhat impatiently: "When are we going to board the ship?"
Listening to the adults talk about crossing the sea in a ship, he must have imagined a rowboat happily bobbing up and down on the waves. Here we were in this thing, ten times larger than the house in which we had lived. After a stroll around deck --deep down one could see the filthy water of the port and the nylon hawsers, thick as arms, holding us to the quay side -- he understood finally that we were "on the ship".
From our deck we saw the neighbouring steamship, a transport vessel for the movement of troops, with soldiers wearing uniforms. It must have been a Scottish regiment because a number of bagpipe players were playing those unique melancholic Scottish soldiers' and farewell songs. Invisible yet palpable the questions lay in the war-impregnated air: "Who will return? When will we meet again? Or is this the last time that I will see the homeland?" This we had in common with the soldiers: an uncertain future.
I remember vividly our first breakfast. Until now we had been accustomed to sitting on hard wooden benches at wooden tables in front of enamel cups and plates, eating without knife or fork. Now there was a waiter pushing an upholstered chair under our bottoms. In front of us the table was set with white linen and expensive chinaware. Instead of the back of our hands, or a handkerchief, we were now expected to use this strangely folded cloth, called a 'serviette,' to wipe our mouth and fingers (not the nose!). Then there was this long list of drinkable and edible marvels, orange and grapefruit juice, fish fried or boiled, porridge, eggs soft or hard-boiled, fresh buns, croissants, toast, ham and eggs, tea or coffee, corn or other flakes, butter, jam, marmalade, honey.
Some of our young men -- I confess I was among them -- felt obliged to eat through the whole list, much to the restrained amusement of the solicitous waiter. Well, as the sea was rough and waves went high, we soon got the hang of normalcy. And soon, for some, up came the contents of their stomachs of what was now not so tasty at all anymore.
The second night was the worst. A fierce westerly storm threw the waves sideways at our ship. I had to tie Seppli and Sanni to their beds, although, despite it all, they slept deeply. Then Hilde and myself too, while little Gottlieb in his basket was sliding from wall to wall. Hilde had a particularly bad time with seasickness. The medication she received from the doctor had hardly any effect.
Our ship had no cargo and little ballast so it could travel fast and economically. Whenever the ship was hit by a particularly high wave, the ship's propeller spun on empty halfway up in the air, which made the whole vessel shudder and shiver. In the morning -- I needed fresh air on deck -- I noticed that we were in a convoy. We were being escorted by a number of warships. Pursuing a northern course, we sailed past Iceland only to suddenly veer westwards. Halfway across the Atlantic, the Avila Star left the convoy behind to continue in a more southerly direction. In a constant but irregular zigzag course, she tried to outwit the periscope-eyes of the German submarines (on her next voyage to South America, she did get hit by torpedoes and sank).
In the middle of the Atlantic a little girl was born to Winifred and August Dyroff. The captain proudly baptised her with the name of 'Avila.' He and the crew saw this as a good omen in those oh-so-dangerous times.
On a most beautiful morning we arrived in Rio de Janeiro. After the impressive sights of only-sky-and-water, to finally see firm ground and the imposing hills of Rio was good. All our tension was gone because no submarine had yet dared to venture that far.
Further on, in Buenos Aires, my sister Marei and her husband were expecting us. They helped our whole party of travellers transfer onto the river steamboat and with the processing of all the documents and papers, as we were of course in transit to Paraguay.
Thus far we had been speaking English with the ship's crew, but now we had to start communicating in Spanish. I had learned a few words and phrases from the dictionary, but using them and understanding what was being said by the Argentinos was not that simple. Yet, as the country had been the destination of many immigrants coming from a variety of countries, we could make ourselves understood easily with a mixture of English, French, German and Italian.
After the first class luxury vessel Avila Star, the change-over to the river steamboat was more of a downgrading into third class. Tiny, musty cabins with three-tiered bunk beds. Communal showers, with the toilets lacking the customary seat. A hole had to be targeted that swallowed everything with exception of the paper, which was to be deposited in a special container. It was no place to settle down in peace, not least because of the offensive odours. Luckily there were three decks on which to enjoy the warm, fresh air.
Although the top deck was for first class passengers, we were never chased away from there. Loud hand-clapping followed by the shout: "A la mesa!" was the sign that a meal was about to be served. So here we were once again, seated on long benches at long tables covered with chequered tablecloths. At the top end stood two steaming large bowls, next to them a pile of enamelled plates. Generous portions measured out with a large ladle were handed down along the table. The easy-going cook really meant well when distributing the food.
There were no serviettes, but I learned a new South American habit: In order to remove food scraps from your lips or fingers, you lower your head to table level, get hold of a bit of tablecloth and search for a spot as yet unused, to wipe yourself clean. Just take care not to use the patch next to a lipstick smudge. They did change the tablecloths from time to time and washed them in the river.
The water of the Parana river was yellow and flowed lazily. Coming from the north, the river winds in a continuous serpentine through the wide Argentine steppes. The riverboat changed direction constantly to avoid dangerous shallows. Sometimes we saw crocodiles lying inert, dozing on sun-warmed sandbanks. Alas, they have become extinct now because of greedy hunters.
We were not the only passengers, a distinct difference from the Avila Star. There, English customs had predominated, in language and behaviour, both in somewhat 'upper class' ways. Here on the riverboat Spanish was prevalent, usually loudly and boisterously.
It was particularly thrilling and fascinating to watch the mooring of our boat in one of the many puertos (river ports). Our arrival was noisily announced by loud tooting, the anchor fell with a great rattle from the bow, dockhands ran along the shore to catch the rope thrown by a dextrous sailor. Some passengers disembarked, going ashore across swaying planks usually without rails to hold on to. Agile stevedores, shouting loudly, loaded and unloaded the varied cargo: chicken in cages, a few piglets in crates, sacks of maize seed, soap boxes and so on. On shore a colourful, noisy and curious crowd gathered, wanting to see everything that was to be seen.
"Look there, on the boat, all those men have beards! Look how they sweat in their thick, dark suits! And the women and girls all wear such long frocks and headscarves. Not one of them is wearing lipstick! And all those fair-haired children!" (I was to learn later that these women and grown-up girls did not feel properly dressed unless they also painted their lips red.)
Unforgettable, too, was the glowing, beautiful sunset, the gentle arrival of dusk. And then the night with its starry skies -- so clear, so variably glistening and glimmering or beaming steadily as I had as yet never seen! The Southern Cross stood majestic and impressive, pointing the way for so many solitary seafarers on the wide oceans of the southern hemisphere.
After five days of up-river travel, we arrived in Asuncion. Here, the river was called El Paraguay, and this too was the country's name, whose capital is Asuncion. This then was the country that took us in, that until not that long ago had been in a lengthy war itself with Bolivia, which had cost many lives. This country now intended to welcome us, conscientious objectors that we were, and even allow our sons and descendants total exemption from military service. (To this date, half a century on, any young Paraguayan at conscription age will be exempted from military service provided he commits himself to live, work and learn at an agricultural college.)
Among the Spanish discoverers or conquistadors must have also been a few pious people, as they gave this place the name of Asuncion, which means 'ascension' or, in German, Himmelfahrt. In fact we did feel much closer to the sun here. It was extremely hot in our dark clothes, at noon even hellishly hot.
A broad freight barge lay ready to take us upriver. It usually transported soldiers. The three-tier berths with thin mattresses only had curtains to close off the 'private areas' -- a certain foretaste of what was to befall us jungle pioneers.
After travelling further upstream -- it took a long, long twenty-four hours -- we arrived at Puerto Rosario. This puerto consisted of an old brick staircase whose steps, partly crumbled away, ended abruptly two metres above the waterline. On the five meter high shore stood a few tough shrubs to which ropes were tied.
A long queue of horse-drawn carts was waiting to take us to the Mennonite settlements in Friesland. There must have been around twenty carts waiting for their passengers. The cart drivers, most of them fair with blue eyes, spoke Plattdeutsch (Low German). They called themselves Mennonites after their principal Menno Siemens. Their forebears were driven out of their homelands, Holland and Friesland, during Reformation times. To the day they still believe in adult baptism and refuse any military service. Their flight took them in stages through Poland, the Ukraine, Russia, the United States and lastly to Paraguay where they finally settled.
At last everybody, great and small, around one hundred in total, found themselves on safe ground and distributed onto the wagons together with their personal luggage, ready to depart. A group of around twelve young, strong men stayed behind. I was among them. There still remained eighty to a hundred cases of varying size and weight that had to be hauled ashore. They contained printing presses, kitchen equipment, a mill, saw and planing machine, quite a few electrical motors, tools and the like.
The barge had a swivel-arm with which the cases could be just about dropped off next to the boat. "Tumba, tumba!" the captain shouted at us encouragingly. Dripping with sweat, we made huge efforts to roll the crates up the steep slope. I will remember for the rest of my life that tumba means to 'topple over' or 'roll'.
Just as unforgettable was another typically Paraguayan acquaintance. Sweating and panting, we had just managed to get one more of those cases uphill and were stopping briefly to catch our breath when a friendly-looking, black-haired, dark-eyed Paraguayan approached me. He offered me a large beaker containing a slightly yellowish liquid.
"Tome, tome," (drink, drink) he said and smiled.
As my dry mouth and thirsty gullet longed for something liquid, I took a large gulp. But oh my! Mouth, tongue and throat, right down into the depths of my stomach, were all pure fire! I spluttered and coughed and it seemed to come back out of nose and ears. With weeping eyes, still I tried to say, "Muchas gracias!" (thank you) to the friendly man.
"Es ca–a blanca pura," (That's pure seventy per cent spirits) he told me, thoroughly amused at my plight.
That night, three of us, myself included, set up a makeshift campsite next to the crates and spent the night guarding them until the most valuable ones had been collected by the Mennonites and delivered to Primavera.
Meanwhile, Hilde and our three children had arrived after an eighteen-hour wagon journey at one of the Mennonite villages, where they received great hospitality. In schools and farmhouses they found accommodation and food. They were to enjoy this hospitality for three months while the first roofs were raised in Primavera.
Once the last of those many boxes had been loaded onto the horse carts, we joined the trek and drove to our destination, Friesland, and to our wives and families. Through wide-open campo (grassland) -- because of its rough, tough type of grass, the term 'meadow' would never fit -- the small but tenacious horses drew us and the wagons, wheels crunching, along sandy ruts.
In one geographical guide about Paraguay, this area had been described as being a 'park-like landscape.' The wide, grass-covered, partly swampy savannah was interspersed with larger and smaller wood-islands. Now and again a gentle hill rose with its fertile red soil, where subtropical forest has spread in indescribable diversity.
Whenever we grew tired of sitting on the hard crossboards of our uncomfortable horse carts, we continued on foot, especially through those forests. The roads were like green tunnels, not to be compared with European wood tracks. The tightness of the canopy allowed the eye only a hint of the secrets that these virgin forests seemed to hold. At moist spots we stirred up thousands of butterflies that danced on the air in all colours and patterns. It was a crazy but quite silent fluttering, a feast to the eyes. Either they were very tame, or very thirsty, but as soon as I stretched out my sweaty hand, instantly two or three of these colourful butterflies landed and sat there, each one rolling down its delicate proboscis and dipping it into the moisture of my sweaty hand. It surprised me immensely that my salty perspiration seemed to taste as good to them as the nectar of a flower.
After a tiresome journey we finally arrived in Friesland, in Village No. 5. And here I also finally found Hilde again. It was late, the children were already asleep, but I was relieved to find that they were all in good health.
Early the next morning we were scheduled to travel to Primavera, where we planned to raise our new Bruderhof. By now I was used to sleeping on a hard bench. The only requirement for that was to be tired enough!
The name of our new estancia (ranch) Primavera (Springtime) came from its former owners Lenz (Spring), and Ruthenberg. That's how Primavera got its name and why its cattle-branding symbol was the marca flor (which means mark of the flower and looked like a stylised three-leafed clover with a short, thick stem). The thirty thousand hectares of land included virgin forest, campo and swamp. On the southern border ran a small river, the Tapiracuay. The open campos, fringed by forests, supported large herds of wild cattle and horses. The native language, Guarani, had no name for these animals before South America was so-to-say discovered. The Spanish names were adopted and transformed, for example, cabajuinstead of caballo (horse).
In addition to the large number of livestock and a few primitive one-story dwellings and shacks, we also took over the cattle hands and forestry workers, together with the alza-primas (large-wheeled logging carts) carreta drivers and ten yoke of draught-oxen.
Ruthenberg had coined his own currency in order to pay his employees: One millimetre sheet copper stamped into round copper coins, displaying the marca flor, the symbol that all his livestock had branded on their hind quarters. All wages were paid in this currency, and purchases could be made in the local shop, Ruthenberg's almacen, only with this money.
The majority of the labourers could neither read nor write, and understood merely a few words in Spanish. So it was possible for the landlord -- generally and reverently called patron -- to extrude double profits in typical colonial tradition.
As far as I can recall, the lines of product on offer in this almacen consisted of a barrel of beef-tallow, a few sacks of arro-y or cheap broken rice grain, salt, a few sacks of galletas and, of course, the yerba mate. Galletas are tiny bread rolls as hard as rock made of white flour, their rounded shape between the size of a table tennis and a normal tennis ball. For local conditions they were ideal provisions, because the rolls, when kept dry, remained fresh for months. To eat these galletas you had to either smash them or break them open with the tip of a knife. Yerba mate, a tea made from the leaves and thin twigs of a low growing bushy tree in the Paraguayan forests, is the most popular beverage of Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Brewed with boiling water, sipped in the earliest hours of dawn, it wakes up the senses still overcome with sleep and helps to gather the thoughts, so as to go at the coming day's tasks from the right angle. During a break at work on those mostly hot days, the preferred way of drinking it is as terere, which is yerba mate brewed with cold water. The kidneys love it, it is thirst quenching, and it helps to forget the pangs of a hungry stomach. This is as I learned it from our Paraguayan work force.
The one area with buildings on Estancia Primavera, which housed Ruthenberg, his steward Juan Hellmann and the foreman Drachenfels, was called Loma Hoby, which means 'dark green hill.' But we chose another place where we were going to build our new Bruderhof, a gently rising mound lying quite centrally, surrounded by wide campos, well open towards the east. In the south stood forest, the soil fertile, deeply layered red earth. A few groups of palm trees made an attractive setting. This wooded hill was called Isla Margarita (Marguerite Island), the neighbouring Paraguayans told us. So this was the name given to the first hof that came into being on that spot.
So what was the first requirement? A roof above our heads, of course. Fortunately, we had brought with us from England an enormous sheet of canvas that we had used there to cover the mighty hayracks. This canvas served us then and for a long time to come as our 'dining room.'
A few sheets of quickly raised corrugated iron housed the two big-bellied three-legged ollas. Ollas were the cast-iron cooking pots that could be had in various sizes. Each held about fifty litres. They were used for cooking, boiling, frying and occasionally burning our food.
Our water supply for cooking and tea had to be fetched from a spring that lay roughly one kilometre away. It was here that I learned to use precious water sparingly, for example when taking a shower. Go into the undergrowth, pull the foliage curtain, take off the last two items of clothing. From the enamel cup brought along with great care, take a mouthful of water, put it into a cupped hand and pour its contents onto the top of the head. A second mouthful from the cupped hand rinses the perspiration from the forehead. A third mouthful is for the neck, and from there continue systematically. Those fine trickles of combined water, sweat and dirt were ever so refreshing! Thus I carried on, from top to bottom. One half of the rest of the cup's contents was tipped down my backside, whilst the other and very last half was poured down my frontage. The tepid wind served as bath towel and I felt marvellous! This technique served us during the days of greatest water shortages. A later improved version consisted of a bucket of water warmed in the sun to give us that refreshing sense of well-being.
The fresh water spring delivered far too little water. The precious liquid had to be drawn by the litre and poured into erstwhile petrol containers that were then brought in by horse cart. Hermann Fros, a Dutchman, was our dowser. He got a thin bifurcated twig from a guava bush and walked the terrain with a concentrated expression. At the spot where the twig moved with rapid downward jerks, he knew that he stood above a subterranean watercourse. He could even tell the approximate depth of the seam.
So we went to work to find this water at a depth of some eighteen metres. With spade and pickaxe, Wolfgang, Erich and I dug out a circular hole of 1.60m diameter and three metres deep. The excavated material was conveyed to the top with the help of a hoist made of rope and two buckets. The deeper we got, the more difficult it became, and our resolve to dig one and a half metres a day was soon reduced to one metre, then less. Soon we struck a tough kind of clay called tosca. We took turns roughly every hour. One of us worked at the bottom with pickaxe and spade, and filled up the bucket with the clay. "Up!" came the shout from the depths, and with the help of a crank it was hoisted up, unhooked and emptied. To get in and out of the well, we sat on a stick tied horizontally onto the rope, and held tight while we were lowered or raised. But two men were necessary to make this means of transport safe.
There was something else that I discovered during this work: After a certain depth in a well, one can see the stars in the heavens even during the daytime!
When we were about fourteen metres down, we struck sandstone, and that put an end to our pickaxe endeavours. But it carried water, and every morning we had to draw out the water. With a steel tube into which we had filed notches, we drilled on, and we were successful. After days of teeth-clenching drilling and all the to-ing and fro-ing, clear water finally began springing. Thus we learned to value this oh- so-precious element. (What does today's high-standing civilisation still know about it?)
The well was so productive that it supplied enough water for the emerging hof as well as the steam engines.
In the meantime, other brothers were raising houses with the help of Paraguayan labourers. That is, first they erected posts, then they topped them with round timber from the forest for the framework of the roof. The roof slats were made of bamboo rods split into six parts.
On the campo, some of the locals, armed with sickles, harvested colorado grass for the thatching of the roofs. For want of nails, the bamboo rods were tied to the rafts with issy-po, a thin but strong liana. Close to the building in progress, a shallow pit was dug. The red earth was mixed with water and trampled with bare feet into a thick paste. With the help of a foot, one end of the small bundle of grass was dunked in this pasty red clay, then thrown with gusto up to the thatcher on the roof. He dextrously caught it and laid bundle upon bundle neatly side by side to create the roof thatch. This kind of roof cover could last for up to twenty years, providing excellent insulation against heat or cold. During a fire, the part of thatch covered in clay does not burn.
So, finally, here was a roof under which I could hang up my hammock! I gladly gave up the place under two trees, and their leafy, non-waterproof cover, that until then had been my resting place. Of an evening, tired from all the hard work, I soon learned how to sleep in a hammock. The multitude of night sounds and noises coming from the nearby forest soon lulled me into a deep sleep.
Sometimes in the morning I discovered uninvited guests inside my shoes. So I stopped leaving them on the ground at night, and made sure to turn them upside down and shake them out before slipping them back on again.
We needed lots of boards and beams for the building of houses, tables and benches. As a start we had four saw pits in action that cut the first materials from the logs out of the forests. (This craft, executed by the locals with great skill and exactness, has long since died out, pushed out by modern techniques.) Still, the four saw pits were quite insufficient to deliver as much building material as was necessary.
Not far from Asuncion, a sawmill and carpenters' shop had burned down. This enabled us to purchase the slightly damaged machinery at favourable prices. It consisted of a 60 HP traction engine, 80 metres of connecting-rod with bearings, a frame saw, circular saw, planing machine and so on.
After four months we had raised four large houses. We called them 'halls,' as they consisted of roofs supported by posts. They had no outside walls or inside partitions. We purchased a few bales of 1.5m wide sackcloth and attached this as a makeshift protection to the outside posts. At the bottom remained a gap of about twenty centimetres and at the top the sackcloth did not quite reach up to the roof.
The urge to reunite with wives and children and all older members of the community was great. We men were tired of having to march for two hours back to Friesland every Saturday evening, in order to return to work in Isla Margarita on Monday at dawn.
As soon as the first two structures were ready, our wives and children moved in. Inside the halls we fixed some fencing wire to partition off the 'family rooms,' each measuring about four by five metres. Bed sheets, table cloths, old sacks cut open, bed throws and all sorts of large sheet items that could be spared, were hung along those wires, in order to give us a minimum of privacy, at least as far as visibility went. Yet, the eavesdropping on a mix of curious night sounds, that sometimes gathered into a strange and rhythmic chorus, could not be helped.
To enter our family room, it merely required lifting the cloth. An old plain transatlantic trunk of plywood, somewhat battered (it still sits resting from its travel ordeals in my cellar), served as our breakfast table. That's where Seppli, Sanneli, Hilde and I sat. Gottlieb, still rather tiny, sat either on Hilde's or my lap. This trunk, as part of the 'outside wall,' offered some stability against strong gusts of wind. The children's beds stood on the inside next to the trunk where they were protected from the wind. Of course we made sure with our 'next door neighbours' that we did not place the most lively children side by side on either side of the cloth wall. There was already enough verbal and acoustic communication.
The roof above our heads offered protection against wind, weather and sunshine, and as nobody was either a renting tenant or real estate owner, there was no fights amongst the residents. It was an excellent schooling in the art of tolerance.
Sweating, but sweating united, we were building a future, not only for our children. We believed that we were setting an example for all the world to follow.
At that time, the gods of war were celebrating their orgies, slurping German, French, Danish, Norwegian blood. We, of German, English, Scottish, Dutch, Swedish, French, American and Swiss nationalities, worked, ate, sang, laughed and cried peacefully with one another, living and working for a better future. It must have been this, the source of our strength, that enabled us to endure all those difficulties and adversities.
Yes, there is much to tell about this beginning. It was fascinating to become acquainted with the so different natural world that surrounded us. The insects, the leaf-cutting ants, those many types of termites, sand fleas, uras (worms), mosquitoes, the countless bees, butterflies, moths, and the greedy caterpillars, thick as a finger.
The invading locusts and their insatiable offspring that moved along like an avalanche, but also the unforgettable feeling of community that welded us together. We had to overcome and work through all those inevitable disagreements that we encountered amongst us as human beings. Still, I must limit my account and tell about just a few vivid experiences.
The Case tractor: I will begin with its end, because many of its parts survived it. Not only my own children derived enjoyment from them, but also a considerable number of others in the community. And this as:
1. A giant-stride, one front wheel mounted atop a strong post, with twelve chains, in the school wood of Isla Margarita.
2. A children's merry-go-round on the other front wheel, also in Isla Margarita.
3. Half of a crankshaft as propulsion for the piston pump in Isla Margarita's kitchen.
4. The other half of the crankshaft, used as propulsion for the piston pump in the sawmill.
5. The worm-gear, formerly steering assembly, as propulsion for the piston pump in Loma Hoby.
6. Cylinder and piston for the sausage press in the Loma Hoby slaughterhouse.
7. Rear wheel as belt-pulley for clay mixer and press, in Isla Margarita's brick-works.
8. Ventilator with transmission remodelled into a vegetable grater in Loma Hoby's kitchen.
9. Radiator, used as heating element for the hot water system, in Loma Hoby's kitchen.
10. Cold water pump for the transport of sugar-cane mast to the evaporation pans.
This much regarding those 'scrap metal' parts that I can still remember (Tinguely would have been delighted!). His end -- I am talking about the tractor -- was dramatic. I was dragging tree trunks with the help of the tractor to get them alongside the frame saw. Suddenly there was a big bang and a deafening clatter: The upper end of a piston rod had broken, torn a hole into the wall of the crankcase, and was nervously wriggling about in the hole, until I switched off the engine. What an end with a grand finale!
Now to its beginnings: This Case tractor really was a case -- a problem case. I quickly discovered its capricious little moods during a short period of mutual collaboration, and had to learn that I got nowhere with anger or well targeted kicks. It must have been one of the first models of the otherwise well-famed tractor manufacturers. Its engine body was mounted diagonally with a belt-pulley on one side, combined with a manual clutch that needed a very gentle touch. There was no battery, just magneto-ignition.
Because the Case and I got along better than anybody else, I may boast (ha-ha) to have been Primavera's first-ever tractor driver. Hans Meier had bought it, still in separate parts, from a mechanic in Buenos Aires. Gerhard Wiegand and I were to pick it up from the river-port of Puerto Rosario.
The place where the tractor stood was at roughly one kilometre from the old port, the location of the actual town, or rather village. We had rented a house in town for stop-overs, a warehouse, and a general base. We barely managed to get the stubborn engine to run, and the tractor to cover the short distance to that house.
Front and rear wheels had no tyres but were of iron. The large, broad rear wheels were fitted with strong angle-irons that had been screwed on so they protruded over the sides in a slanting direction. Although the maximum speed was just under six kilometres per hour, the driver got a rough ride. Fortunately, we were a twosome and had brought a horse along so we could take turns.
Next day, after endless tries, the engine finally started and we could leave. To illustrate it more descriptively: we spent hours doing a kind of 'crank-starter sport' with quite some backfiring, and ended up sweating vigorously, hands covered in welts.
By late afternoon we were caught by a thunderstorm. An empty rancho (hut) offered refuge. The door was unbolted and already I believed I was safe, but -- oh horror! The hut had occupants. Its residents were a good number of hornets, species of the large red native kind that are nearly twice as big as our European yellow wasps. The hornets attacked me angrily, humming threateningly, and in no time I found myself outside again. I applied a layer of wet red clay on the two stings and the pain soon disappeared. So we settled down for the night inside the open porch area.
The next day got us twelve jolted kilometres further down the road. That night we spent at an almacen. In the evening of the next stage, just before General Aquino, we were invited by an estanciero to dine with him and spend the night. On the wide veranda stood a large table, covered with a white tablecloth, with real chinaware, forks and knives, and daintily folded serviettes. We could hardly believe our eyes. A tiny worrying thought bubbled up: Would I still know how to...? Nearby they had arranged two basins with warm water, soap and towels so we could wash. Oh what a delight to get rid of the dust and sweat, and clean those blackened mechanics' paws!
Our host -- an elderly gentleman with aristocratic flair -- was very courteous and friendly. He felt the need to apologise for his looks. He was suffering from Leishmaniosis, his nasal bone had been completely destroyed by the disease. He deemed himself lucky to be able at long last to converse again with 'educated' Europeans. With our limited Spanish vocabulary and a little French we did manage some conversation.
Next morning we had to take the magneto apart. Only much later, after our departure, did I realise to my great chagrin that I left behind my well-used, highly treasured and very handy Swiss army knife.
From then on, and for the last thirty kilometres, our progress was smooth. We arrived back in Isla Margarita by the evening. Everybody, especially the children, had heard the rumbling of the tractor from afar. It was just around the time when parents were collecting their children from the children's departments, so our arrival turned into a triumphant entrance. We found ourselves surrounded by the children's delighted and amazed expressions over such a noisy, dusty-grey monster called tractor with such dangerously dented wheels. This was genuine progress, acclaimed technology, arriving in this as yet nearly untouched land.
The first Bruderhof group that had emigrated to Paraguay had gone to stay with the Mennonites in the Chaco. As Primavera in so many respects was much more suitable for our new beginnings, this group was now to join us in Primavera. We had in the meantime created enough shelters so that they too -- about eighty to ninety people -- had all the space they would require.
In the meantime, Ruthenberg and his manager Hellmann had vacated the three houses in Loma Hoby. So here we were to start another new hof.
Cyril Davies, a young doctor and surgeon, arrived with the group from the Chaco. The locals soon got wind of his qualifications and that nurses and midwives were also among us. Only days after their arrival, a carreta -- a two-wheeled cart pulled by two oxen -- turned up at the hof. In it lay a groaning, sick man, burning with fever, accompanied by two of his relatives. Appendicitis, Cyril diagnosed. The nearest hospital was three ox-cart travelling days away. A tent, two planks covered with a sheet, and he had an operating theatre and table. Fortunately, Cyril had all the required tools of his trade, and he went ahead with this critical surgery. He saved the patient's life.
We now moved to Loma Hoby. We all fit onto one horse-cart, the whole family -- Hilde, Seppli, Sanneli, Gottlieb and I -- including our few belongings. In Loma Hoby we lived in a proper house that had a door and windows with shutters that could be closed. The floor was of compacted earth, the walls fitted with shelves for our items of personal use. The ceiling was of bare rafters that held the thatch.
In the middle of a large lawn-like area in front of the buildings stood a thick post of red hardwood. At seventy centimetres above ground level it had a hole the size of a man's hand. This was then Primavera's slaughterhouse. On a certain day of the week -- I think it was on Thursday mornings -- one could hear the thumping of horses' hoofs and loud calls that came nearer and nearer. A wild bullock, a novillo, was being led onto the meadow held by two lassos, snorting and lowing angrily. The lassos were held tight on the girth of the horses, and in the saddles sat the nimble, agile gauchos. Another lasso, thrown over the horns and threaded through the hole in the post, pulled the animal toward it, until its forehead lay tight against the post and could be tied to it. The 'master butcher' stood ready with a pointed double-edged knife. Feeling with one hand for the spot of the first dorsal vertebra, he applied the knife. A short blow, and all the nerve-centres that lead to the brain were severed, and the animal fell to the ground. From the slashed jugular vein the blood flowed into buckets held at the ready. Within the shortest of time the carcass was skinned, gutted and carved. After two hours it was all over, only a few stray dogs from the neighbourhood licking up the last bloodstains on the ground.
On such mornings the children had to stay at home. Still, some weeks later, we moved these unenlightening slaughter scenes to a distant corner of the hof.
To create Loma Hoby we needed wood, a lot of wood, in the form of slats, boards and beams. In a small wood island nearby we operated two saw pits, but they didn't satisfy our requirements by a long way. So we began looking for sawmill engines and, to drive them, a traction engine, which is a boiler combined with steam engine. Mounted onto wide wheels, it could be transported, on this occasion with eight to ten yoke of oxen. We also wanted to produce electricity with the many direct current dynamos we had brought with us. We had among us electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, mechanics, electricians, structural engineers, carpenters, joiners and so forth, who should now, of course, show what they could do. And they did.
Presently, a traction engine was installed in Isla Margarita, a dynamo purred, driven with a belt and delivering 110 volts of direct current. As time went by, the other halls and further houses, conjured up out of the bare ground, were supplied with electricity. The installation was -- an understatement -- a stone-age installation. It was all parallel fencing wire half a metre apart, put up at a safe height. Above it lay a fillet hung with a bulb suspended on a short piece of cable. One end of the fillet was loosely connected via an eyelet to one of the wires, while the other end, fitted below with contact wire, lay on the other. There was a rod at this end of the fillet which, if lifted, switched off the light. If it lay on top of the wire, the light was on. A nail kept the fillet in the 'off' position. The whole contraption could be shifted so that it could also be operated from the bed.
But we in Loma Hoby still had to make do with tallow candles, storm lanterns and petrol lamps. It sounds romantic, but it wasn't always easy to see the positive side of it.
Part of Loma Hoby's planned set-up was also a generator unit. As firewood was plentiful in our forests, only steam-power came into question. We heard that in Concepcion a traction engine of roughly 40 hp was for sale. This small old town is situated on the Paraguay river, more or less five hundred kilometres further north, on the Tropic of Capricorn.
Equipped with a poncho, a change of clothes and a wide-rimmed straw hat, I climbed onto the horse cart that was to take me to Puerto Rosario. The housekeeper -- the brother in charge of bookkeeping and business management -- gave me a blank signed cheque which I tucked away carefully for safekeeping.
On the following day I boarded the riverboat steaming up-river. Her name was Anita Barte. Well, Anita had long ago lost her youthful grace, virginity and elegance, but with her gigantic paddlewheels she fought and panted courageously upstream. Whenever she left behind another river port, she blew her goodbye with three brave-sounding, loudly echoing, steam-activated whistle signals.
On the lower deck was a colourful confusion of all sorts of personal effects of the boat's passengers. In an open box, two pink piglets were squealing. Inside a wooden crate, two hens crouched quietly. Nearby sat a large bundle of bed clothes, the four corners knotted together, and resting on it a grey-haired grandmother. Her black-brown cigar, gone out long ago, rolled with incredible dexterity from one corner of her mouth to the other. From time to time her lips ejected -- with astounding accuracy -- a brown spurt over the ship's side. In a hammock, drawn up between two metal posts, a young mother was unselfconsciously breastfeeding her baby. Next to the wall lay two bales of hard pressed black-brown tobacco leaves, sacks containing maize grain, a prettily painted wooden chest with half-rounded lid, and much more. The air around me carried the mellifluous sounds of the Guarani language. Spanish is still a foreign language for these folks, it is the language of the gringos who come from far away, from the other side of the ocean, to live and settle here. The gringos bring with them much knowledge, much civilisation, a lot of money with which they buy the land, occupy the earth and pay for it. This earth, which is the life-giving mother of everything. Who else can conceive of selling their mother but those 'civilised' ones?
By now I had already learnt a few expressions in Guarani; with the greeting "mbay chapa" eyes light up and a small door seems to open. This means: "How are you?" Usually the answer comes back: "Y buna," "I am well."
In Concepcion, I found lodgings in a wooden harbour pub. The landlord, Floet, was of a stocky build, with a light Swabian dialect. He had collaborated for a few years, out of idealism, in an Indian mission. But he and his co-missionaries had to give up everything when they had a huge row with the resident Indian chief, or medicine man. Floet's main income now consisted of the proceeds from sales of ca–a, the sugarcane liquor, to the stevedores, the men who did the loading and unloading of the ships. This is how they invested the Guaranis earned by their hard labour.
Inside an elongated hut behind the store were five lock-up cabins containing bed, chair and wobbly table. Luckily there was a mosquito net hanging above the bed. One morning, a cabin neighbour, a tropero or cattle driver, showed me his hand and lower arm, it was totally covered in mosquito bites. "It doesn't matter, I'm used to it," he laughed. He had gone to bed drunk and forgot to pull his arm into the net. "First half of the night, I'm so drunk I don't notice anything, second half of the night the mosquitoes are so drunk, they forget to bite." I confess I never tried out his wisdom, although even today I do not abhor the occasional night cap.
The steam engine was in a factory nearby. A German mechanic had already prepared it for a check-over. His name was Engel (Angel), and his wife was a Himmelreich (Heavenly Realm). No wonder I never forgot their names. They were a pleasant elderly couple who regaled me with Streusselkuchen (cake sprinkled with ground almonds) and real coffee, with milk and sugar, in China cups. The machine, genuine English workmanship, with two cylinders, withstood the 150% test pressure well. We soon agreed a price, and the now completed cheque sealed the deal.
The former owner arranged for the engine's transport to the harbour and loading it onto a barge. This was a broad vessel. The lower hold as well as the fore-deck and poop had been filled with what used to be oil barrels. These old barrels, often dented and partly open, were filled with lumps of unslaked lime. Finally our traction engine stood lashed tightly to a pair of tough thick planks above the open hatch. What a strange steamer, with its tilted chimney! If a sudden cloudburst had surprised us, the whole ship would have been wrapped in a thick cloud of steam and dust (nowadays there are few people who know how unslaked lime reacts with water, with its violent development of steam and dust). Tightly moored alongside the barge lay a motor boat provided with a strong engine that took on the job of tugging. I boarded with my small suitcase, hoping dearly for good weather and very little wind. A storm and strong waves would have drowned us in a tremendous fizzle. Both captain and first helmsman, the only crew, seemed to be smart old river hands who were well versed in all the seafaring tricks and wiles of the Rio Paraguay and its winding course.
At any rate, we arrived in Puerto Rosario after a trip of forty-eight hours. Luckily the river was at flood level, so it wasn't too difficult, with the help of every single stevedore, and much resounding din, to heave the heavy engine onto safe shores. Our carreteros, the ox-drivers, conveyed the machine safely to Loma Hoby, after five days of hard toil on the roads.
I was glad to be back home. Hilde was having a hard time with the three small children. Little Gottlieb, now a year old, was particularly susceptible to the problems of acclimatisation, as was most of his age group, the one-year-olds. A number of families had already lost their one-year-olds over that period of time. For a while our own little one had problems with falling asleep. On hands and knees, Gottlieb used to rock backwards and forwards, for half an hour at a time, lulling himself to sleep. It was useless picking him up and carrying him around, he always had to rock himself to sleep on his own.
Construction of the new Loma Hoby settlement went ahead slowly but steadily. At the other end of the village we built a corral, a high and very strong enclosure. Also a slaughterhouse, and buildings for operations in connection with our cattle and horses. It was there that the oxen were yoked up to the alza-primas, those log-carrying vehicles with their two-and-a-half metre high wheels.
We had to find a spot for a well that delivered enough water for the steam engine. The sawmill and workshops had to be designed and the area had to be cleared of trees, shrubs and thickets. In the hof, the first hall was erected just as we had the ones in Isla Margarita, so that we could take some pressure off by accommodating more people in Loma Hoby. The outer walls of the hall were of wooden boards, its inside partitions of mud walls.
With all that work, time flew by, and May, 1942, was arriving. We had been there for more than a year now, and many things were already much better. Hilde was pregnant again. In Isla Margarita, set somewhat apart from the residential buildings, a 'motherhouse' had been built, containing three rooms, with proper separating walls, doors, windows and shutters that could be closed. It had a wide inviting veranda for sitting out in the open.
Two weeks prior to the expected birth, our family was split up. Little Gottlieb stayed in Loma Hoby with Dorothy Headland, an experienced nurse. Seppli and Sanneli went to stay with their aunt Trautel Dreher in Isla Margarita, and Hilde moved into the newly built motherhouse for a period of rest. In one room was Dora, one of our midwives. She was available on a twenty-four hour basis. Hilde found herself installed next door, in grand manner all on her own, without wailing and demanding children, and she enjoyed the peace to the full. At night I camped out on the veranda, on a camp bed. My unsaddled horse grazed peacefully nearby. It took me there every evening from Loma Hoby, and back in the morning in time for work, after a leisurely breakfast with Hilde and Dora.
Here's a little story about something that happened at the time. It was during siesta, the midday rest period for all creatures. Everything was quiet and people had settled down for a nap in the shade. But no, there was a three-and-a-half year old, single-minded little girl, pattering along the dusty road. She was going in the direction of the gate where the wagon tracks lead across the campo and into the forest, and then on towards Loma Hoby.
Julia Lerchy saw her and ran after her. She caught her when she was already well across the wooden bars of the gate.
"Where on earth are you going?" Julia asked.
"I am going home to mother," the little girl replied. "Trautel is not my mother, and Josua and Seppli are always teasing me."
This was Sanneli, even at that age already quite independent. But Julia led the run-away back to where she belonged. Now it was up to Trautel to appease the little girl, which she did by offering her a banana. Despite the passage of all those decades since, it appears that to this day the gesture actually never adequately convinced the fugitive.
"It has to be a boy," Hilde said frequently. "He's taking his time." Then, in the night from the 9th to the 10th of May, 1942, he began to make himself felt more forcefully. I was awkened and asked to put a cauldron of water on the gas cooker and bring it to a boil. Finally at daybreak, a cry of release, signifying, "Here I am!" He was the largest baby ever. His hair had grown right down his forehead. We called him 'Benjamin.' He was always the tallest among his contemporaries and his siblings. Moni, the midwife, dropped by to ensure that all was well with mother and child. After a well-deserved breakfast together with Dora, Moni and Hilde, I saddled up and rode back to work.
A fortnight later, our family of six was reunited. With Hilde and the children back home, we were happy to be together again.
We were moved into new living quarters, a larger room in the newly built hall that included a wash corner. This wash corner was a primitive mini-bathroom, about 1.50m x 1.50m, next to an outer wall, closed in with boards and a curtain of sackcloth. A washbowl sat on a plank at table height, underneath sat a slopping-out bucket with lid, next to that one for clean water. Above, on a row of nails, hung wash flannels and towels. A little higher up, on a narrow shelf, one or two enamel mugs held a number of bristly toothbrushes of varied colours. In a tin lid was a bit of white chalk powder, our first simple dental hygiene medium (usually it was only used after emphatic instructions). At the end of the wash, the used water was simply emptied somewhere outside. The thirsty earth tended to absorb it immediately. The floor of this new one-room home consisted of a mixture of red clay and ground-up termite hill pieces. Termite hills could be found on the campo, standing one-and-a- half metres high. For the relief of nature, there was a small hut not very far from the hall. In a small hut, on a bench-like seat built over a deep hole in the ground, was a circular opening. The hut above the pit, well closed-in on every side, sealed away all the smells.
I was assigned to work at the sawmill together with a few brothers and two Mennonite workers. Soon the steam engine was put together, fixed onto its hardwood foundation, and the circular saw and horizontal frame saw went into operation. Foundations of concrete were out of the question, neither on our land nor in the wider surrounds could stones or gravel be found. Paraguay's only cement factory lay a thousand kilometres up north. Because of the laborious and primitive transport conditions, cement would have become prohibitively expensive. So in its stead we used the local hardwoods, such as lapacho, curupa-y and urundem-y. They are heavier than water. When dry, they withstand every nail driven into them.
Of course, the steam engine had a steam whistle high above its roof. With its loud, far resounding whistle, it encouraged us at half-past-seven in the morning to go to work, and at twelve noon to stop. After lunch, siesta and tea -- we called it vespers, all the children with us around the table -- the whistle sent everybody back again to their respective occupations. At six o'clock in the evening the welcome whistle then sounded to relieve us from a hard day's labour.
As this whistle was the only sound that could be heard far and wide, we had an agreement: with signals such as the Morse Code S.O.S., all the men would gather together while the women and children were to go straight into the buildings. It was to be the sign of any threat or danger, such as a fire. Every family and group of residents kept their water vessels topped up at all times. So far, all our houses had thatched roofs.
Once -- it must have been in August -- the shrieking S.O.S. signal sounded. Shouts of "Fire, fire!" could be heard coming from the hof. Dropping everything, I ran to the spot from where I had seen smoke rising. Oh dear, that's exactly where we lived! A young and agile Paraguayan lad had already scrambled onto the roof, hitting the flames with a wet Hessian sack.
When the fire was out we saw that only a small part of the outer roof thatch had burnt. As the inside ends of the grass bunches were covered in dry clay, the flames could only get at the outer part. The interior had not suffered any damage at all.
It was very fortunate that at the time of the fire, Hilde was at the babyhouse with little Benjamin, Gottlieb was with the toddlers, and Sanni and Seppli were in kindergarten. No other residents had been in the hall. It was by chance only that someone, walking past, detected the fire and quickly raised the alarm.
This was the winter season, and towards dawn the star-spangled nights were often bitterly cold. To make our family breakfast more comfortable, I had brought back from the kitchen a large pail with lateral holes that I had half filled with live coals from the kitchen-range. Ha! We all loved toast made over live coals, and the chapped, icy cold hands of the children could warm up when held close. After breakfast, Hilde usually washed a few diapers and hung them onto the diaper frame close by the pail. The pail was still warm, but the fire had gone out by now. As it often happened at that time of year, during mid-morning a warm northerly began to blow. It dried the diapers fast, and it probably also re-kindled the coal, presumed extinguished. That's possibly how the diapers caught fire and the resulting flames, fanned by that wind, leaped into the roof.
Once the first shock had passed we felt grateful that no great harm had been done.
The building of Isla Margarita and Loma Hoby continued slowly but steadfastly. Fortunately, three doctors, two female and one male, all from England, had joined our community. The news spread quickly in our surrounding neighbourhood. Paraguayan patients along with many relatives, frequently from as far away as two days of travel, came to ask for medical help. At weekends, Cyril Davies, the surgeon, was often called in the middle of the night. In distant villages, knife injuries or bullet wounds were frequent, and lives often needed to be saved. We decided to ease Isla Margarita's burden of visiting patients and to build a small hospital in Loma Hoby.
First, we built a house near the main gate. We called it 'the gatehouse.' It had an almacen, two outpatients' treatment rooms and a large area, roofed over, for the Paraguayans. The outpatients' rooms were fitted with chair, table, trestle and a cupboard that could be locked.
I have lasting recollections of this place. For one whole day a tooth had been bothering me badly. The night that followed seemed to last thirty hours, and the lopsided swelling of my face next day drove me to the doctor in that surgery.
Cyril, with his blue eyes and friendly voice, said: "I see, I see. We'll get it out, just sit down." He pulled out a pair of pliers from his 'tool bag.' "Hold on as tight as you possibly can."
I had never held so tightly to a chair as I did then. Without anaesthetic he wrenched out the suppurated tooth with a forceful twist and pull. I was rid of the painful nuisance and enjoyed the 'liberation!'
The plan was to build the new hospital on the loma -- the hill -- at about three hundred metres from the village centre. A deep layer of red clay induced us to a different building procedure. This clay was extremely suitable for the manufacture of sun-dried bricks. As many of the patients were destitute, either they or their relatives offered to work off their debts. So with their help, sun-dried bricks were manufactured not far from the planned building site.
In Paraguay it often rained suddenly and heavily. This could dissolve the bricks as if they were made of chocolate. So we had to use a different building sequence. First, the roof supports were fixed to the hardwood poles. On top of that came the thatched roof. Only then could we begin with the brick laying. We used this system to build the toddler house -- the daytime place for our one-and-a-half to three-year olds. At the far end of the house were family rooms, and we moved in there.
By then, Hilde's hearing had deteriorated considerably. It had become quite impossible to have a private conversation in the 'hall' where we had been living. The new home also proved to be an improvement for the children.
In the meantime, already the first half of 1943 had passed, and Hilde was pregnant once more. This too was a reason for moving to new premises. This time, Hilde did not want to go to Isla Margarita for the birth. The hospital was also getting special birthing rooms, but these were still under construction. All the other houses in the hof, at that time, were unsuitable. So Hilde decided to give birth at home, supported and helped by our midwives.
Once the time came -- it was the 29th August 1943, another Sunday -- the children were put to lodge outside, on the broad and large veranda that surrounded the house.
Soon our little David arrived. He was a dear addition to our growing family that by now required more and more parenting attention. The children spent the day with their respective groups but at breakfast time, vespers, in the evenings and during the nights were together at home with us.
Hilde's severe deafness brought about an increasing loss of communication and contact with the children. The same applied to the communal meetings and activities, but it also applied to me. She complained now and then, rightly, that I was married to the sawmill and the steam engine. So the Brotherhood decided we should have a couple of weeks holidays away, in a pension on the Lago Sapucay. We thoroughly enjoyed the days there. It was an exceptional treat.
Let me stay with the subject of holidays for a moment. In our first years in Primavera, picadas or footpaths were cut through the forests and swampy areas, so that the southernmost boundary of our property could be reached more easily. This boundary was shaped by the river Tapiracuay. On the other side of the river was a stretch of impenetrable swamp that went on for a number of kilometres. At various points along the river front, on our side, we cleared away the trees and underbrush right down to the water's edge. These places were given names, like 'Liverpool', Taufstelle (baptismal site), 'Cairo', Badeplatz (bathing spot) and so on. Once, in those early years, we did have a baptism ceremony there, the first time by total immersion, which in those warm climes was rather refreshing. As the years passed, these spots on the riverbank turned into Primavera's 'Riviera'. There, far from all civilisation, in nature's own paradise among enormous forest trees hung with numerous lianas, we had created our very own holiday resorts.
The work distributor offered Hilde and me a day off. We harnessed the cart up, loaded a demijohn of drinking water and some provisions, and added fodder for the horses. Peter and Anni Mathis were to look after the children for the day. Off we went. The horses cantered happily across Campo Guana. A herd of wild cows was grazing the dew-covered grass. As soon as they saw us, they broke into small groups. All their eyes, pricked ears and moist noses turned towards us: were these strangers dangerous? These wild cows defend their new-born calves with great fearlessness, so it was therefore safer to give the herd a wide berth.
In the forest we drove along a bumpy road that at length brought us to the river Tapiracuay. Something rustled in the bushes, then we heard two loud 'thump-thump' and a big splashing sound. We had disturbed two water hogs. They had fled to safety in the river. Close to the shore a flock of weavers had chosen a tree as their nesting place. The nests, made of artistically woven palm fronds, hang half a metre long dangling from the branches. These weavers are the size of European starlings. They are very lively and appear to be extremely communicative. Their flame-red back flashes in flight.
We chose a secluded spot without ants, and made ourselves comfortable. The horses nibbled at their fodder -- hacked manioc -- and we had sandwiches. Our conversation, frequently interrupted by unfamiliar bird calls and the multiple voices of frogs, was intimate, peaceful and harmonious. But there! I jumped! Footsteps were approaching. Two big, dark-skinned, black-haired men were coming towards us. Clad in tatty and well worn leather leggings, rifles slung across their back, long knives stuck in their belt, with a machete dangling from the hip, it was obvious that they were hunters. I stepped protectively in front of Hilde.
"Buenos dias," I stuttered, "Mis amigos estan por venir en poco momento." (Good day, my friends will arrive at any moment.)
The two looked us over. A sight such as ours -- a bearded white man, a young woman in a long dress, the horse cart -- must have been pretty unexpected to these hunters.
It quickly dawned on me that they meant no harm. So I asked them: "De donde viene?" (From where are you?)
"Veinte-y-cinco de Diciembre," (Twenty-fifth of December) was the answer. That was all they said. Then they vanished into the green thicket.
But we felt frightened and, as there were no amigos coming at any moment, we decided to pack up, hitch the horses to the wagon, and return home.
I discovered later that on the far side of the swamps towards the south there is a settlement called Veinte-y-cinco de Diciembre. Those two hunters must have been just as surprised as we were, albeit differently. Presumably they too, as most of the rural population, had little command of the Spanish language. The melodic Guarani can express feelings and inter-relational emotions far better than the Spanish language.
How did we associate with the outer world in those early pioneering years? We had been able to flee the terrible war, but we knew of the despair and danger that our parents, relatives and friends had been exposed to and suffered.
Our first link consisted of thick fencing wire fixed to tall, twisted poles that ran from Puerto Rosario via General Aquino, Itacurubi and Vaca Hu to San Estanislao. This was the telegraph line, and it functioned just as long as local cattle breeders hadn't cut themselves a length for fence repairs. Then there was the mailbag that arrived weekly and had to be collected in neighbouring Friesland. Letters from Europe were rare because of censorship and the dangers of the sea crossings. Our mailbag carried newspapers from Buenos Aires, one pro-German, the other anti-fascist. From Asuncion we received editions of El Pais, and the Mennonites sent us their monthly "Mennojournal." We also had a radio, in those times a terribly complicated piece of equipment that only worked if the old accumulator had been recharged in Friesland.
From the many contradictory war reports we pieced together some kind of picture about the tragic events taking place in our homelands. Notwithstanding our varied origins -- English, French, German, Dutch, Swedish and Swiss -- the inflammatory writings employed to provoke peoples against each other had no influence whatsoever over us. We believed firmly that we could build a new, peaceful world. All our differences continued, they simply made our shared 'Nation of the Future' more colourful and lively.
By then, a considerable number of immigrants of German extraction -- shop-owners and innkeepers-- had settled in Paraguay, and they were exceedingly proud of their victorious Fuehrer who was leading his Volk towards a 'regeneration' of the world. I had known a few Nazis in Germany, yet the ones here in Paraguay could only be described as 'Nazis to the power of 2..Still, I also met some German Jews who, intimidated, had been able to get out in good time.
After building a few houses, and once the hofs had taken some kind of shape, we set up our own postal address. It was called 'Primavera' and the post-bag that came from Asuncion via Puerto Rosario bore the label: Correo Primavera. I believe that Hermann Arnold was our first postmaster with the authority to unlock this often much yearned for post-bag.
Our nosy children now learnt the principle of postage stamps. Maybe there was a letter or even a small packet from home? Occasionally -- rarely enough -- a brief Red Cross letter from a prison camp arrived, like the one from my brother-in-law Erwin Woelfel who was in a prison camp in the United States. We all extracted and condensed the most important news, and shared them regularly at our communal meals.
The Brotherhood elected me as a 'Witness Brother.' By right, 'Brotherhood' should really be called 'Siblinghood' as the women had equal rights. To be a 'Witness Brother' has nothing to do with giving witness at a court of justice. Let me write about the organisation, or better, the organism, as it existed within this group, at that time.
The Brotherhood, that is, the amalgamation of all baptised members, is so-to-say the sovereign. It determines everything, it makes decisions and carries the responsibility. The Brotherhood delegates tasks to individuals: financial and agricultural to the housekeeper, work coordination to the 'work distributor,' the management of individual operations to 'foremen' or 'forewomen.' For the children's departments, such as the baby-house, toddlers, kindergarten, in part also school, as well as sewing rooms, kitchen and laundry, it is mostly women. A 'Servant of the Word' is elected, he is to look after everybody's spiritual well-being. He is to put into words what is alive in the group or ought to be awakened. When faced with a difficult case, he shall receive counsel and support from one or the other, sometimes at a meeting of all 'Witness Brothers.' Often, 'foremen' and 'forewomen' are also simultaneously 'Witness Brothers' and 'Witness Sisters.' The settling of smaller daily disagreements are the responsibility of 'Witness Brothers,' who are expected to assist in the finding and constant renewal of the peace.
The names and description of these positions, as well as their function, was adopted from the Hutterian Brothers, who had lived in community for hundreds of years. In essence, this was pure democracy, within which all minorities could also have their say and were listened to, and even if it were merely one individual.
It was around the year of 1944 when a circle with pietistic inclinations formed around the sons of Eberhard Arnold. As this development was threatening a split in our community, the incumbent Servant of the Word called all Witness Brothers together, and they decided to put their thoughts and concerns before the Brotherhood. In the meeting that followed, the dangers were recognised, and the instigating brothers 'excluded'. They were to leave the hof right away, during that same night.
Because I knew how to handle horses, and also had good experience with the roads to Puerto Rosario, it fell to me to ferry the excluded brothers to the port. Once there, they were to board the steamer for Asuncion. I knew full well what it meant to be excluded, sent away without farewells from the brothers and sisters, from the hof where they too had thrown in their full weight. I had that experience myself. I knew about the 'good' behaviour that was expected.
The wagon was ready, I climbed on, and once they stowed away their little suitcases and climbed on board, we drove off into the dark night. Not a word was spoken. I thought it unwise to pursue my own thoughts too diligently. The horses as well as the road with its many ditches and obstacles demanded full attention. The night was misty and humid. From time to time, on approaching a village, dogs barked. Now and then a nightjar fluttered away from under the horses' approaching hooves. I had never managed to find out where these strange birds spent their days.
After four long, difficult hours in enforced silence we stopped for our first break, and to feed the horses -- they had drunk when we crossed Laguna Mojon. I ate my bread and lard in silence. On the other side of the wagon a few low-spirited words were being exchanged. Then we had to harness up again, climb back on, throw on the ponchos, and continue on our way. The early morning air, clear as crystal, carried from afar the sound of a first crowing cockerel. It was noon when we reached the harbour, where my silent passengers alighted. We parted without words of goodbye.
I have no idea who invented this so-called 'community discipline' with its big and small punishments meted out with great harshness and consistency. The judgement and condemnation of these brothers, as well as this forlorn trip with them to Puerto Rosario, were my first and most difficult tasks as newly elected Witness Brother. Nowadays, this would be called 'brainwashing.' Today I am incapable of reconciling these acts with the life, teachings and deeds of Jesus.
This event had a particular effect on my later life. Both Hilde and I had derived great satisfaction that I was chosen to become a Witness Brother at that time. But my active participation in this judgement, as well as the silent trip that night, were to bear heavy consequences sixteen years later both for Hilde, myself, and the majority of our children. We were not excluded there was no reason for that. We were simply ignored, and passed over.
"Sorry, but there's no place here for you. You'll have to find yourself somewhere else to stay," was the punishment meted out many years later. Then, it was a terrible blow. But since then, it happens to have been a good while now that we felt pleased to have been separated from the Bruderhof like this, because we found a freedom that we would never want to lose again. But about all that at a later time.
The year 1945 had begun, and Loma Hoby's construction was going ahead well. We decided that the stables down in the 'chicken wood' were to be moved to a different spot. There was a dearth of accommodation so the old stables were converted into living quarters. We continued calling them 'stables'.
On Feruary 27th, all the beds in the new hospital were occupied, so our second daughter, Theodora Regula, was born in these 'stables.' Would this affect her later life? She remains a modest -- yes, in my opinion too humble -- person. We gave Regula the name of one of Zurich's three city saints who sacrificed her life for her faith. Nowadays, our daughter Regula calls herself 'Theodora.'
With this new addition we again needed more space, so we moved into the newly built Wiesenhaus (meadow house). It was furnished in a slightly better way and was much roomier. The inner dividing walls were of wood plastered in whitewashed clay. In Primavera, the predominant wind direction was north-to-south, so all houses were built diagonally to that wind direction, to make the most of the cooling breezes. At the gable-end I erected a spacious arbour. On its one side, lush grapevine shoots formed a green thicket of leaves. The other side had loofa clambering up the latticework. The loofa plant is very similar to the cucumber, with long, thick, cucumber-like fruit. Once dried, they have a tough fibre interior, excellent for use as a sponge.
I had given Seppli a small homemade spade for Christmas. He set about with pride, eagerness and perseverance to dig a large, deep rubbish pit. On one side of the house, by the fence that closed off the campo, was space for a small chicken coop. The six chicks and one cock ranged freely to scratch and find their food. The children were responsible for their safety, feeding and watering. Proudly they took the freshly laid eggs to the Kastner (food distributor), the man in charge of provisions. Occasionally, one or two eggs came back home with them. This was always a very special treat.
We were at breakfast one morning. As always, the window stood wide open. Seppli had already unbolted the hatch to the chicken pen and all of them, a colourful mix, were busy scraping around and chasing beetles. Suddenly there was loud screeching, cackling and noisy flapping of wings.
"A fox! A fox!" the children shouted.
Indeed! A fox had grabbed our only white hen by its tail. It was desperately trying to get away and was screaming and flapping her wings. With one leap through the window I was outside and ran after the two, hollering and clapping my hands. The fox, holding onto a tiny bit of tail flesh and feathers, dropped the fowl and fled. The hen was safe. The magnificent cock, usually so very proud, had been the first to flee! For the rest of its (short) life the white hen never grew another tail feather. The fox must have been young and inexperienced, he didn't seem to know that he must grab a chicken by its neck, not by its tail.
The hof continued to grow. In one big area by the southwest boundary we cut away the underbrush, leaving the original trees for shade and climbing opportunities for the children. Snakes did not usually dare to venture onto open ground. There was a number of poisonous species around. Lessons were taught in an assortment of wooden huts. At the lower end of the area -- it was called 'school wood' -- stood an enormous timbo tree. Two grown men could just about span its thick trunk with their arms. Beneath its mighty crown we built two concentric circles of benches made of thick planks. It became the early morning gathering place for schoolchildren and teachers, for a shared start to the day, usually with a song or a few words. In fair weather, the Brotherhoods from both hofs got together in the evenings under this timbo, to discuss and make important decisions.
When we left England, three of the Bruderhof members stayed on to finalise business transactions. These three Britons, one couple and a single brother, soon had company. A great number of mostly young people heard about the community and wanted to join. It was essential to find another place, and it was to be Upper and Lower Bromden, two neighbouring farms, somewhat run down, not far from Birmingham in the Clee Hills. They called it Wheathill Bruderhof. For economical, organisational and spiritual reasons, a swap of Brotherhood members between Primavera and Wheathill became advisable. Decisions such as these were made beneath the timbo.
The school wood had space also for a donkey and some old riding horses. The bigger boys were very keen to look after these animals. One day, the children discovered a different kind of visitor. A howler monkey was sitting high up in the branches of a tree. From out of his dark brown fur he watched those bare-skinned two-legged monkeys on the ground, standing round and gaping at him. Did he have thoughts about his Darwinian kinship? Howler monkeys, despite their extraordinarily voluminous vocal capacity, are actually quite shy. This was the only time I ever saw one in the wild. Their howls could be heard at tremendous distances. Local folklore had it that their wails heralded a change in the weather, indicating impending thunderstorms and rain.
Winter -- May to August -- was the dry season. That's when traditionally the dry grass on the campo was scorched. A gentle tepid wind blew from the north. Floating on it came wafts of bluish smoke that drifted through the hof and into the houses. The blood-red reflections of the fires could be seen everywhere on distant horizons. One day, one of these savannah fires was fanned by the warm winds after it was supposed to be out, and was driven right to our doorstep. All the men and some of the bigger children rushed down to the burning inferno and stood in long rows, hitting the greedy flames with wet sacks, branches or shovels. Luckily, we succeeded in putting it out. Once back on the hof -- with blackened, streaky faces, hair pasted to our scalps in a mix of ashes and sweat -- the honey-sweetened lemonade handed out by the kitchen staff tasted all the better for our efforts.
The school wood also offered refuge to an assortment of wild creatures, found or caught young, and tamed. There was one young –andu, a Rhea, strutting about, head held high. It turned that head on its long neck with such ease, appearing to rotate it by more than 360 degrees! It was highly dextrous in finding and picking up worms, caterpillars and insects of all sorts. It's special flair was tampering with buttons, erasers, nuts, nails and shoe laces. As it matured and grew bigger, it started pecking the bread from the small children's hands before they even had a chance themselves. The result was its banishment from the hof, from where it was removed and taken away to a distant campo.
During those years we suffered our first locust invasion. They arrived in the afternoon as an indefinable cloud, darkening the sun. Then these feared and voracious insects descended in their millions on shimmering wings. Some of them began landing on trees and in gardens. The alarm was raised. We attempted to chase away this pest, trying to encourage them to be on their way again by making a big racket, shouting, waving pieces of clothing, the children banging pan lids and clanking empty cans. Alas, the closest ones merely flew up, only to come down again behind our backs. It was hopeless. Our chicken, ducks and geese were industriously catching and swallowing as many as they could. After a while their maws were enlarged to bursting point. Their eggs tasted like locusts for some time.
We were defeated, we had to give up. On trees and plants, all over the place, the gluttons swarmed. Our feet crunched them where we walked. They were everywhere. Whoever hadn't closed their window shutters had to shake their bedding before going to bed, so as not to be woken by unpleasant sounds of popping or snapping. During that night, we began to notice a wholly new, previously unheard sound. It was the quiet, steady sawing of the jaws of these insatiable invaders, eating away, millions of them, throughout the night. Leaves, stalks, even bark from thin tree branches disappeared, gnawed and eaten off, devoured by these insects. What a wretched sight it all was when day broke! A devastation of plants, bushes and trees, only their bare skeletons staring back at us.
After sunrise the locusts moved on. They left behind a ground cover of black-green pellets. It was their droppings, and a dreadful stench burnt in our noses. Where the ground was slightly firm we found a network of small round holes the size of a pencil. Inside, at three to four centimetres depth, a small clump of eggs had been deposited by the females.
As far as I can remember, the size of a wandering locust is roughly the length of a man's finger and the thickness of a woman's finger. It has four pretty wings flashing in the sunlight. There are two antennas at the top of its head, two lateral eyes, and the mouth is equipped with two strong sharp jaws. This insect gives a pretty warrior-like impression. The females have two digging tools at the end of their long, round bodies, with which they drill the hole for their eggs. Those ingenious digging tools are by far more sophisticated than all of our man-made and modern digging devices.
So a further invasion threatened from what was to come forth out of those little round nest holes, but at least this time round we could prepare ourselves for the onslaught.
Within a few weeks nature had pretty much recovered and made progress again, but so had the eggs, deposited in the little holes in the ground. They had undergone a miraculous change, and one after another, crawling out of the holes, came tiny little baby locusts. Their long rear legs took them in quick jumps to the nearest young green plant, at which they then had their fill. As yet they had no wings, and for the time being the damage was negligible.
A few weeks on and they were already larger, and ravenous. As if following an invisible command, these armies moved steadily, jumping and crawling, into our gardens and freshly planted fields. The Ministry for Agriculture lent us some rolls of sheet metal fifty centimetres wide which, when dug in vertically, became a barrier against the advancing gluttons. We were also given a flame-thrower which we used from time to time to destroy the insects that began piling up against those sheet metal barriers. In other places we had dug ditches, half a metre deep, with slanted overhanging walls that could not be climbed. In addition we made large flaps like fly-swatters from raw cowhide that, fastened onto long poles, enabled us to kill large numbers with one stroke. So we were able to defend ourselves somewhat against these invaders. I was constantly reminded of 'Gulliver's Travels' where we were the giants fighting a huge army of tiny dwarfs.
In Paraguay we enjoyed the same privileges as our neighbours, the Mennonites. The male members of the community, as well as our male descendants, were exempted from doing military service. However, it was not all as clear-cut as we might have wished.
A man and his sixteen-year-old son came from one of the neighbouring colonies to live with us, intending to join. The boy's name was Erwin. He grew up without his mother. Shortly after his birth it was discovered that she was suffering from leprosy. The family was split up, as Erwin's mother had to be interned in the country's leper colony. Fear of leprosy was still extreme in those times. The sufferers were banished from their place in society, despised and avoided.
Erwin's father Adolf had been hit hard by this tragedy and he felt very lonely. Rarely a smile appeared on his face. But he found a new home with us.
In Paraguay, conscription was at age seventeen, which meant that Erwin was soon to join the army. His father, however, had not arrived in the country enjoying our exemption privileges, yet neither he nor Erwin wanted to bear arms. So, to avoid unpleasant arguments with the authorities, Erwin was to quietly cross the border, to Argentina.
My sister Marei was then living in Villa Guilhermina, in the Argentine Chaco west of Corrientes, on the Parana river. Her husband was in charge of a large tannin factory (tannin is the raw material for tanning hides). I was assigned the job of taking Erwin to Argentina. It took us ten days to assemble the necessary travel documents. The bureaucracy of ma–ana o pasado ma–ana (tomorrow or possibly the day after) was then as now in full swing. When we boarded the river steamboat we passed the border control quite officially as tourists. In Corrientes we had to disembark. A ferry-boat took us across the broad Parana river to Reconquista, a small town on the opposite riverbank. There, we were picked up by a rail-taxi. It drove us along the narrow factory rails for twelve kilometres, right into the village, home of the factory.
The reception was very friendly. Marei seemed to fully enjoy having finally caught up with her 'little' brother. We had a good laugh over our childish quarrels.
Erwin was taken in by my sister and brother-in-law as one of the family. He had to stay there and wait for months until his papers were ready. The plan was to send him to England. There, safe from conscription, his new home was to be the Wheathill-Bruderhof.
Sven Rasmussen showed me the installations of his large tannin factory. The timber from quebracho tree trunks came from forests many kilometres away, the logs arriving already stripped of their bark. Enormous steam driven machines, with sharp teeth and a hideous racket, grated the wood into shavings. These were then boiled, thereby extracting the tannin from the fibres, and further boiled to thicken the mixture. Tannin is a precious and important export commodity of Argentina, as well as Paraguay.
Once back in Loma Hoby, happily reunited with Hilde and the children, I distributed the few small gifts I had brought with me: square brownish-coloured boiled sweets bare of their wrappings, plus some chocolate from the only chocolate manufacturer, 'El Elefante.' Every tablet proudly showed off the picture of an elephant. It tasted wonderful!
Hilde was expecting another child. On a beautiful sunny Sunday morning we were sitting happily around our animated breakfast table. Hilde got up and said: "Children, do the washing-up and tidy the rooms when you're finished, I'm packing my bag and going to be in hospital for a few days." The bigger children understood and took charge while I went with Hilde.
On our way we met Ricia Bernard, a young American who, like Hilde, was on her way to the hospital with the same intentions. When they met, they challenged each other: "Let's see who wins this race! Who will be the first to give birth!"
Hilde won. Was it because of her sixfold experience? It was the 27th of May 1946, and it was to be another boy -- Hansli. The birth certificate says Johannes Daniel. He has always been our Hans. The midwives, nurses, everybody praised little Hansli as the most beautiful newborn they had ever seen. His brothers and sisters were allowed to visit that afternoon, to admire their handsome little brother, and to bring the happy mother a bunch of fresh flowers.
For once we stayed in the same house after the birth of this baby, because this time we had plenty of space for the newcomer. Hilde also got a daily house-helper, a young woman who helped with brushing, combing and plaiting hair, singing, making up quarrels and washing dusty little hands and feet.
At the end of World War II, all sorts of military equipment and vehicles were being sold off at auction in England. Our brothers in Wheathill bought a four-wheel-drive lorry. It was a robust, high-wheeled Guntractor, suitable for rough cross-country driving, and had a powerful Chevrolet engine. This was just right for our roads. That is, in Primavera we had no roads; what we had were deep, worn-out, washed-out ruts, usually filled finger-deep with sand. The lorry's track was twenty-five centimetres wider than the track of our wagons, so one of the Chevy's wheels was always running on a high road edge. Harry Fossard shared the weekly trips to Puerto Rosario with me.
These journeys were usually quite adventurous. Although the distance to Puerto Rosario was only sixty kilometres as the crow flies, the stretch we had to cover to get there must have been at least ninety. Forest tracks were tortuous, and swampy areas had to be given a wide berth. I spent many a sweaty hour behind the steering wheel, or with head, hands and upper body beneath the raised engine hood, or lying on my back in the dust under the vehicle, or on top of it tying down a high load of timber. Quite a few "Gopfertori" (a gentler Swiss dialect version of 'goddammit') slipped off my tongue, although usually to no avail.
I made frequent trips to pick up visitors that arrived at the river port. After repeated thunderstorms and cloudbursts, the tracks would flood. This meant that I had to hitch up my trouser legs, take off the alpargata shoes, and step into the 'soup' to feel gingerly for the potholes with my bare feet. If the lorry got stuck in one, that meant unloading all the heavy planks and beams and depositing them on firm ground. The wheel was then jacked up. A suitable tree or bush was axed down, then layered under the wheel. With a bit of luck and a howling engine, the break for freedom was usually successful. Then everything had to be loaded back onto the lorry so the trip could continue. Axe, spade, machete and all sorts of tools were part of the permanent lorry equipment. Even chewing gum could be extremely important, not only in a thirst-quenching capacity or to calm frayed nerves, but once well chewed, bereft of any taste, it developed a sticking power that could mend even leaking petrol engines (this trick is not found in handbooks).
It must have been just after Christmas when a number of guests had to be collected from Puerto Rosario. All went well and we expected to be back at home before sunset. The engine hummed happily and the wheels cut through the sand in second gear. Suddenly there was a short, unusual sound from beneath the hood and thick steam began to emerge. We stopped, switched off the engine and looked under the hood. Oh dear, the belt that activated fan and water pump was gone and we had no spare belt. So we tried to drive on, once the engine was cool. After one kilometre we had to stop again, it was producing billows of steam. What to do? We weren't going to make it like this. Then one of our female passengers sacrificed her Nylon stockings. She also produced her sewing gear, and we pieced together a spare belt. Now we were able, with a few cooling-down breaks, to arrive at the village of Itacuruby. I drew up in front of Salomon Ayalas's almacen. I knew I could count on his hospitality. He took our visitors in for the night, in his usual friendly ways.
Don Salomon trusted me, but I did not know why. Anyway, he often took a lift with me to Puerto Rosario where he frequently had business. In Itacurubi they called him el turco (the Turk). But he wasn't from Turkey, he came from Armenia. When Turkey tried to wipe out the Armenians in a genocide, he managed to escape and flee, and saved his life, but not much more. Somehow he managed to get to Paraguay. There, he started his general store. This store had the most varied haberdashery, all ordered into neat drawers, and also hair ribbons, buttons, lipstick, cheap perfume, everything that women required. Because of his thriftiness he became a rich man, but he always remained natural, warm-hearted and very hospitable.
That night, my passengers enjoyed his hospitality. Primavera was only another fifteen kilometres away, but to continue our trip in the dark was unthinkable.
I lowered the rear board of the lorry's loading area into a horizontal position, held up by chains. This became my bed. I was tired enough. The poncho was my blanket, my arm the pillow, and I soon fell into a deep sleep. I do not know how long I slept. The inner clock was switched off.
Then I dreamed about a revolution. But was it a dream? I woke with a start. All around me pistols and guns were banging, popping and exploding. The flashes, explosions and the wafting smell of gunpowder smoke plus happy shouts everywhere calmed me down again. It was New Years Eve, of course! They were seeing in the New Year with a lot of noise and bangs.
After a while things quietened down, even the dogs stopped their frightened yelps and barking. Only the chords of a few guitars and harps still trembled on the breeze from the village green. Was this dream of a revolution, triggered by New Year's celebrations, an omen for the new year that had only just begun?
The community rented a large house in Asuncion, in the Calle Independencia Nacional, the street that led from the city centre past the National Bank uphill right to the marketplace. This bank had huge golden doors that were assiduously polished every day. Nowadays the gold is protected with a layer of translucent lacquer.
We called our house 'Bruderhof House.' The occupants were the barbudos, or 'the bearded ones.' All our married brothers, and some of the older singles, wore beards, all looking very different, depending on the owner's type and growth of hair. Our women and girls were often mistaken for gypsies, because of their ankle-length skirts and head-scarves.
The house was a place for business as well as a home-away-from-home for a number of our youngsters who were in further education. One room served as storage space for purchases. A shop was set up in a large front room that faced the street, where we sold a variety of our turned artefacts. It also offered temporary accommodation for people passing through. A couple was put in charge of running the place. They were relieved from time to time by another from Primavera.
We had daily radio communication between the Bruderhof house and Primavera unless there was an electrical storm. "Uno Ka, uno Ka de Primavera," it sounded repeatedly, until someone at the other end responded. Orders were placed, and news exchanged. Of course there was a secret code, but that I must not disclose (except in exchange of a handsome ransom!).
For some reason or other that escapes me now, the houseparents had to be replaced for the period of one month. Hilde and I were chosen to go as a replacement. Hansli, just a year old, was taken in by Anni Mathis. The other children were taken into the foster care of an English couple, Johnny and Betty Robinson.
We had hardly settled in when, after a fortnight, a revolution began. It started in the far north of the country. All steamboats and ships on the Rio Paraguay were confiscated by one or the other side of the warring parties. The Rio Paraguay was then the only travel route to the north. The army confiscated our radio equipment, both in Asuncion and Primavera. All contact was cut off. Within the city and in the suburbs, nasty fighting and shooting broke out. All businesses were closed, shop windows boarded up with thick wooden planks. We had two doors that led to the street. Behind one we placed thick coils of barbed wire, the other was secured with strong wooden bolts that could be opened only from the inside. We displayed a large poster with the symbol of the Swiss flag, given to us by the Swiss Embassy, which was meant to signal that here lived Swiss citizens. It is impossible to say if it helped in any way.
We had sufficient provisions. Only manioc, vegetables and some meat from the market had to be purchased from time to time. The vegetable peddlers, women who usually moved along the streets with their donkeys, heavily laden with carrier bags full of vegetables and manioc or sweet potatoes, did not dare come into the city. In the early hours of the morning, the sounds of shooting usually subsided. That was the time of day when two of us went on our way, carefully and quickly picking our way along the streets close to the walls of the quadras we passed. Once we had the provisions from the market, we went back in the same way. The door was opened in response to a knocking code, and we crept back into the house. We were extremely fortunate that nobody suffered any harm, despite occasional stray bullets that damaged a few roof tiles where they happened to land.
We had no news from home, from the children. There were a number of contradictory radio announcements from which we learned that the Colorado Party, with its pillaging and murdering army of mercenaries, the pynandys, were arriving from the north, intending to take Asuncion. Colorado means 'red', therefore the 'Red Party.' But they were quite the opposite of the notorious Reds. Pynandys means 'the barefooted.'
After six long and anxious weeks, the mad nightmare was over. We knew that Primavera urgently needed a large sum of money to pay the accumulated wages of its many field workers. We manufactured a special money bag made up of countless pockets, to be worn around the body. With those pockets stuffed with banknotes, Gerhard Wiegand was to deliver the cash to Primavera, on the first boat returning to Puerto Rosario. From Puerto Rosario he walked the sixty kilometres to Primavera. He was lucky that it was winter. Otherwise it would have been unbearably hot. This way, he could easily hide his unusually large pouch under the poncho.
Within a week the situation in the country had calmed down enough to allow our own return home. We were exceedingly happy to find our children -- as well as all brothers and sisters -- in good form. The marauding barefoot-soldiers, the 'revolutionaries' with their heightened hopes for better wages, had passed by without doing too much harm. The wagons and horses had been hidden away in the forests. The lorry couldn't be started, the distributor of the ignition was sitting somewhere in someone's trouser pocket.
We celebrated a happy home-coming with our children. Much later only was I to discover that Susanna had been rather sceptical as regards the foster parents, whilst Johnny had been very well accepted by the boys. No wonder! He had a real knack for acquiring food treats. Quite often the surprise delicacy of scrambled eggs appeared for breakfast -- eggs were a rare treat then. Thus he seemed to have won the hearts of at least the boys.
For us, a period of normalcy now began. Hilde went to help in the sewing rooms, where she worked with some sisters and apprentices. She had always wanted to be a teacher. She was intelligent and had patience and a gift for teaching young people, which she applied by showing them how to achieve all those seemingly complicated skills that can be crucial in daily life. It went without question that all our clothes and garments were homemade. Shirts were frequently made from sugar-sackcloth. This cloth had one delightful quality, it could scratch the skin very pleasantly after each wash. In a room next to the sewing rooms worked our master tailor, Willi Kluever. He toiled over the boys' and men's wear. Coarse cotton cloth woven locally was the material used. Any brothers travelling abroad, though, received garments made of slightly better material.
Once again I took up my work at the sawmill, which had been improved over time. There were additional things that required further improvement and repair. The team consisted of three brothers and three Paraguayans whom we had trained. Kaspar Keller was our machinist and stoker for many years, the same Kaspar with whom I had shared my room at the Werkhof, during my years as apprentice. Now, sweating and in full swing, he delivered the logs into the hellish chasm of the steam engine to keep up its steam pressure. He conscientiously controlled the water level, and checked the drip-feed lubricator and all that went with it. It was he, too, who activated the steam whistle that summoned everybody near and far to begin or end their respective jobs. Oh yes, Kaspar: "Wenn dein starker Arm es will, stehen alle RŠder still" (when your strong arm so chooses, all motion stops). He was good at penning amusing rhymes, and his delightful sense of humour often spiced our toil with happy laughter.
The steam engine also operated a dynamo that supplied the 110 volts of direct current to the hof, with its living quarters, kitchen, dining room and of course the new hospital. At six o'clock in the morning, the lights went on. This meant that the person doing early morning duty had to stoke up enough to ensure sufficient pressure in the machine. At night, at a quarter to ten, the lights dipped three times because at ten o'clock lights went out. This gave everyone time to undress and crawl into bed. Sometimes somebody came running, shouting, "The meeting hasn't finished yet!" Or the hospital put through an urgent request: "We need the light, Cyril is still operating!" That meant piling on more logs, and continuing until the night watch dropped by with the advice that it could be shut down.
[To be continued]
Mel Fros, 11/13/98:
Who loves the wind on a stormy night
When curtains are drawn and fires are bright?
He roars down the chimney, the windows he shakes,
And all 'round the house such an uproar he makes,
'Boooooooooooooooooo,', says the wind."
(For those who know the song, please count the "o's" and see if they match each note of the melody)
2/25/99: (Humor and pain go hand in hand, as I hope this ditty, sung to the tune of "I've Never Sailed the Amazon" illustrates.) Rumor
I've never sailed to Australia, I've never reached New Wales.
But Don, Eve, Christoph and Verena, they can go there when they will.
Yes, weekly from New Jersey, Gulf Stream jets, white and gold,
Go roaring Down Under. Yes, really to Australia.
And it's way too far Down Under, to see a love turned cold.
To je.......t to Auckland!
And it's oh-so-far to Auckland,
To see my mother old.
I've never seen a swagman, nor yet a Bruderhof Aussie.
Sipping his yerba mate, in the shade of a Koolibah tree.
Unless I go to Auckland, this rumor to confirm,
Go jetting down to Auckland, to the hof of Christoph's dreaming.
And I'd hate to waste my greenbacks
Some day before I'm old
To je....t 'till I am broke.
And I'd hate to jet Down Under
To confirm a corporate joek.
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