The KIT Newsletter, an Activity of the KIT Information Service, a Project of The Peregrine Foundation

P.O. Box 460141 / San Francisco, CA 94146-0141 /
telephone: (415) 821-2090 / (415) 282-2369
KIT Staff U.S.: Ramon Sender, Charles Lamar, Christina Bernard, Vince Lagano, Dave Ostrom;
U.K. : Susan Johnson Suleski, Ben Cavanna, Leonard Pavitt, Joanie Pavitt Taylor, Brother Witless (in an advisory capacity)
The KIT Newsletter is an open forum for fact and opinion. It encourages the expression of all views, both from within and from outside the Bruderhof. The opinions expressed in the letters we publish are those of the correspondents and do not necessarily reflects those of KIT editors or staff.

May 1995 Volume VII #5

-------------- "Keep In Touch" --------------

A Very Happy Maytime to all KITfolk and KIT friends! We received many favorable responses to last month's Double Issue, especially to John Stewart's Autobiographical Narrative. It seems to have helped many KITfolk understand how the Bruderhof patterns of ten, twenty, thirty years ago continue on in the present time. On page 9 we include the registration form for the Sixth Friendly Crossways KIT weeks, July 28-31. Please return the form as soon as possible with your deposit. Even if you are not coming, your scholarship contribution will help someone else attend.
ALSO, our expenses for the April Double Issue almost reached $1,000 dollars. This, along with Children of the Hutterian Brethren's new 800 number and some other XRoads Fund expenses, has drained our bank account. Please, if you have not contributed recently, send in a donation. We need your help in order to keep KIT coming every month to your mailbox. THOSE OF YOU WHO NEVER HAVE PAID FOR RECEIVING KIT AND CAN AFFORD EVEN A SMALL DONATION, NOW IS THE TIME TO DO SO! We volunteer our time, but you must help with our production costs. CORRECTION: The correct name of the author of the short story 'Daniel' that appeared last month is Susanna Alves Levy. We regret the error.

----- The Whole Kit And Caboodle -----

KIT: We were saddened to hear of the death of Vera Lindsay, dear friend to many. Ursula Boller Lacy writes of Vera: "I was impressed with her courage in fighting the cancer, again and again saying 'I am going to fight this.' My special memory of her is from our time in London together in the early 50's before she went to Primavera. I was very keen to get materials for the hospital, so we went around to firms begging for the hospital for about three days. It was great getting to know someone in a different setting. She always seemed to be very kind and I especially remember her smile."<
Belinda Manley, 4/24/95: Our dear friend, Vera Lindsay, died after a year's struggle with terminal cancer on Friday, March 31st. She had been at home for Christmas, and her children Jean and Rohan had been there with her for that week. After that, neighbors, friends and also visiting nurses enabled her to remain there, staying downstairs as she became more frail. She moved into St. Leonard's Hospice for the last two weeks, and Jean and Rohan were there with her on her last day.
Her cremation took place the following Friday. Local friends attended, and those with whom she had worked at Bexhill Hospital where she had been in charge of their new Physiotherapy Department when it opened, and remaining there for some years. Before then, when she returned from Primavera with Jean and Rohan in 1960, she had come to live near to me in Blean, finding physiotherapy work in the local hospital. Rohan returned to his father and brother in Hampstead. She rented a bedsitter near me and my sister Agnes. Jean, eight years old, went to Blean School opposite to where we lived. She came over to us for tea every day after school until Vera picked her up on her way home from her hospital work.
Vera, on her arrival in England, had gone first to live with her widowed father at Fareham. I went down for two nights, staying in a nearby bed & breakfast. We talked nonstop in a park while Jean played contentedly in a paddling pool. I learned of the awful situation in the brotherhood circle after the American brothers arrived, and how people were being sent away, often in great need and distress. It was all very sad to hear about.
Vera amazed us all by her unfailing courage ever since it was declared, in January 1994, that she had terminal cancer. She simply accepted it as a fact that she had to prepare to die and "to put her house in order." She set about doing this, and yet also lived as full a life as her gradually ebbing strength allowed her. She belonged to a Country Dancing Group locally and also went on holidays where dancing was the theme, or else 'visiting Country Houses' on 'University Weeks' where different topics were discussed, like 'bird- watching' or 'local history.' I often used to stay a few days at Bexhill with her, and she would come here. Jigsaw puzzles and Scrabble were fun to do together. She came last June here on our Hampton Shelter Group "Reunion Day" in the strawberry season, spending a hot summer day in the garden together. She also attended the KIT Conference summer weekend at Andover, coming on Sunday from Bexhill, and driven back by Rohan.
So now her life on earth has ended, but our memories of her will go on. She was a lovely person. It was a special joy to Rohan and Jean that Rohan's older brother and his wife unexpectedly turned up. Vera had not seen him, I believe, since the sadness of her divorce when he went to live with his father after their return from India.
One thing I shall never forget about Vera is her ability to be so beautifully unjudging of others. I remember ringing her up very upset after having heard how young families were being sent away from Woodcrest and finding themselves in great need. Vera was quiet. I said, "Don't you agree with me that they really behave so wrongly to think they can do such things to people?"
She quietly replied, "Well, they just don't see what they are doing, do they?"
It is Eastertime now. I thought of Christ's words on the Cross when he said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." I thought of Vera very much during Holy Week and Good Friday and Easter. Some flowers that I gave in memory of her for our church decorations were used in the "Easter Garland" that takes the place of the crown of thorns that hangs on the wooden cross opposite the church door during Holy Week.
So, until we meet again, dear Vera! Farewell!
Leonard Pavitt, 4/24/95: We heard from Nellie Dorrell that Gerald, who has cancer, is now living in a hospice situated in a pleasant, quiet residential part of Torquay. She is able to visit each day as the little buses that run from the town centre to outlying parts can be caught near her home and stop opposite the entrance to the hospice. Also it is only about 100 yards from their daughter Valerie's house, which means that Nellie also can visit her at times after seeing Gerald and Valerie is also able to visit him quite easily. Nellie can still be contacted at her address: 20 Madre Pore Place, Pimlico, Torquay, S. Devon, TQ1 1XY. She would be happy to pass on any greetings or letters to Gerald.
Also, area phone codes in Britain now include a number "1" before the area code.
Children of The Hutterian Brethren: Dear KITfolk: we are a new organization formed to assist ex-Bruderhofers. As starters we have installed an 800 number (1 800 742-3052) and are planning an Open House in Kingston for Thursday, July 27, 1995. We invite KITfolk on their way to Friendly Crossways to stop by for an afternoon and evening of events that include a buffet supper and meeting with local friends. Hopefully those of you who live nearby and cannot come to Friendly Crossways will take this opportunity to meet together. It should be fun!
Bruderhof leadership has been invited to meet in a nearby park with any of those attending who are interested. Also we are working on a list of residents willing to offer overnight sleeping accomodations. RSVP on our 800 line!
The Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY, 3/11/95: Hutterite community's exodus divides their German neighbors. by Arthur Allen, Associated Press
Birnbach, Germany -- On the surface, it seems a quintessential tale of German intolerance: a Christian community, forced to flee Nazism in 1937, returned 50 years later, only to be driven out again by antagonistic neighbors. Blocked from building a hilltop community by opponents who used words such as "too many foreigners" to dissuade them, the Hutterian Brotherhood has decided to leave Birnbach after moving here seven years ago.
"If they aren't right-wing extremists, they are like them," Joerg Barth said of the opponents of his one-hundred member community. "The same spirit is at work as in 1937."
But the story behind the story is a bit complicated. The 500 villagers of Birnbach were at first skeptical about the Hutterites, members of a small Protestant sect, pacifist and poor, who in 1988 bought a mansion previously used as a Catholic home for wayward boys. The Hutterite men wore suspenders and long beards. The women wore head scarves, their legs covered behind long skirts. They were like nothing the tiny village in the Westerwald forest had ever seen. Two-thirds of the Hutterites were foreigners -- mostly Britons and Americans. But after much guilty self-reflection and determination to make friends, most of the village embraced the brotherhood.
In elections last June for Village Council, the main political parties joined forces behind Mayor Manfred Walterschen and defeated an anti-Hutterite "Citizen's Initiative" 82 percent to 18 percent. Other than a handful of die-hard opponents who have skillfully pulled bureaucratic strings to prevent the sect from building a communal dining room, kindergarten and workshop, there is nothing keeping them from staying. But the Hutterites, who dedicate their lives to the principle that men and women can live together in peace while following Christ's teachings, are very sensitive to their surroundings. In January, on the eve of breaking ground for the long-delayed building projects, Barth announced that the Hutterites would move away.
Explaining the decision to a reporter, he pointed to a passage in Matthew from his battered New Testament: "And if anyone will not receive you nor listen to your work, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town."
"In 6-1/2 years we haven't exchanged a sentence with our opponents. When they pass us on the road, they look right through us as if we were air," said Barth, 66. "We feel it's better to go where we are wanted."
Direct confrontation about disagreements is a principle of Hutterite life, but Barth's opponents, led by a 70-year-old retired building engineer named Gerhard Schwalm, have refused from the start to talk to the community. The opponents will not talk to reporters, either. But Schwalm, who lives down the lane, published a statement in the Rhein-Zeitung newspaper saying his group had every right to block the construction, which he contended would have been too noisy.
The 35,000 Hutterites scattered around the world -- mostly in Canada, the United States and England -- live in 350 small, largely self-sufficient communities. The Hutterites do not proselytize, and welcome discussion with neighbors of other faiths. They largely stay out of politics, but sometimes protest against war or abortion. The Birnbach community earns much of the cash it needs producing wooden toys and equipment for the handicapped...
Barth, a German who had lived in a U.S. Hutterian community for 25 years, led the group's return to Germany. He immediately submitted building plans, but Schwalm blocked his every move. For six winters, the community had gathered for its communal meals in a large, drafty tent.
"I don't think we could take another winter of this," said Ken Comer, 32, of Abbeville, Ala. "We could spend a lot of money and rub shoulders with people in Bonn to force our way through, but that is not our witness," Comer said. "We are called to live a very simple life of community and brotherhood."
The mayor, who staked his political life on keeping the Hutterites from leaving, feels a bit betrayed. He organized a Feb. 11 march by 1,000 people -- the only time anyone ever marched in Birnbach -- to petition them to stay. George Barth, the Hutterite leader's son, acknowledged that the decision to leave had partly to do with internal church matters. U.S. members of the church were expected to come to Germany to help out, but backed out a few months ago.
"At this point, we do not feel able to start here in Germany," George Barth said. "Our friends in Birnbach say, 'We're for you, what's the problem?' But there is still a lot of opposition. They (the opposition) managed to stall us for seven years and threaten to continue to do so."
Bette Bohlken-Zumpe, 4/12/95: We are thrilled with our Fax machine as I can reach almost everyone I want quickly and lose less time with chit-chat. Recently we had Gottfried and Janice Holland staying with us for a couple of days. It was lovely! He told me that they had been staying with family in Tried, Germany, and were telling them about the KIT letters. His brother- in-law is a university teacher. He looked at them and said, "I can get KIT on the university computer!" So they went and, as Janice said, "came home hours later with a whole stack of papers -- KIT information and the April newsletter!" They were absolutely thrilled to bits that you can just pick all this information out of the air. It really is quite amazing! So we are going worldwide!
The German papers are still printing information about the Michaelshof, some really big articles. It is quite disgusting! Many things are absolutely against all the old Bruderhof principles, such as last year, they had the county elections in Birnbach and as some people were against a big building plan in their village, all the Bruderhof people went and voted for Mayor Walterchen, who was on their side. In doing so (Birnbach has only 500 inhabitants) they outvoted the people who resisted their plan to change a parkland area into an industrial one. We never voted during my time on the Bruderhof! Also, the son of Joerg Barth wrote a little answer in the paper to my bit, saying that it was amazing that people and the press would rather believe an "old woman who left the community 30 years ago than them, their trustworthy neighbors!"
The enclosed article gives the usual story: loving, happy, singing people of God. They go on about the vote last summer and how it was just a small minority of villagers against them and that they won the votes 11-2 for the expansion of the Bruderhof... Kim Comer, apparently a brother, continues: "Even though 1000 people demonstrated... even the pleas of the Governor and the Mayor cannot change a decision made out of a deep conviction!"
"Buy why leave now that you finally have received permission to build?" he was asked.
Comer answered from the Bible. "Jesus said that if you are not welcome in a place, shake the sand from your shoes and leave!"
The article continues: "Their departure is a protest against a society where, thru laws, people are able to terrorize their fellow men... 'Many will not understand this action, but we do not want to spend our energy in fighting the laws and the political parties. We want to gather our strength, and work where we are truly wanted and needed!'
"'What about all the sympathy people are showing you at this time?'
"'We have not come to get sympathy from men. We have come to live God's message of peace as a witness to mankind. Too many people just live life in a dreamlike manner and take everything the way it comes. But difficulties like we have experienced here in these last month, we have never, ever experienced in any country at all.'...
"We stand together looking at the red-tiled roofs of the village of Birnbach. Comer's eye rest on the house of Gerhard Schwalm and with a soft voice he said, 'Sometimes I feel closer to Schwalm than any of the other villagers. He fights for what he believes in, and most people do not do that!"
Gerhard Schwalm, 4/95, Citizens Union, Birnbach, in reply to various letters in the German newspapers: You have responded in the Open Forum to the departure of the Hutterites. It cannot be held against you that you place the responsibility upon the Citizens Union for driving these people away, since the press and TV came to this conclusion before you. You must be wondering why, then, we kept quiet all this time despite all the accusations against us, and only answer the media with the enclosed letter now. The answer is simple as well as shocking: the media, newspapers, TV and radio only wanted sensationalism, and never asked for the true facts. We have had sensationalism like this before, all set into motion by Mr. Barth, the leader and follower of his ancestor, the founder of this community. In the beginning, we most certainly tried to answer these accusations against us (1989-1990). But our experience was that the truth was fabricated and statements taken out of context, or even real lies were told. It is frightening to experience what television teams will do to get an interesting story. This is not only [character] assassination but real persecution of your fellow men. I wish for you that you will never come into this situation of being defenseless and dishonorably in the hands of the media. Without any consideration for our village, all these false reports have lead to a theatricality that is as bad as a burning fire -- and even our local paper was caught up in this fire!... You will understand how shocked, angered and deeply hurt we are by all this. This is not only true for the Citizens Union, but also for the silent majority of our village. This letter is no legal dispute, but I do want to make our situation clear, because the press has falsified all the truth in this matter.
Ending, I would like to make a personal comment as the president of the Citizens Union, and therefore the most personally attacked person in this matter: those of us who were too young to vote for any party, but at the age of 18 were found old enough to be sent into the war, have the right to ask Mr. Barth, who has labeled us as'Nazis': "To what do all your actions lead?" Greetings,
A Story by Mr. Gerhard Schwalm, Chairman of the Neighbors Initiative to Unite into a Citizen's Union in Birnbach. This matter caused great concern and unrest amongst the neighbors.
June 10, 1991: Around 5 PM a stranger came to my door and asked me for my help, because he wanted to leave the community, 'Michaelshof auf der Hoehe.' At a later date, it turned out to be a "Mr. W." who was too frightened to say his name at that time.
June 11, 1991: The same man came to the doorstep. He wore a blue raincoat and wore the hood way down over his face so as not to be recognized. Actually this raincoat was his wife's, and was reversible. When he left, he wore the coat inside-out so as not to be recognized.
What he told me and my wife during his visit was so 'explosive' that we had to see the life of the Hutterites, as it is lived amongst us, in a completely different light, even though we did know part of it from the local police. Once he has successfully managed to leave the place, he will give the whole story to Protocol.
Originally he came from the former D.D.R. (East Germany) and had been in prison there 11 years earlier (his statement is that the Michaelshof is much worse than the state prison!) before he came to Bavaria (we think someone paid his way out of prison!). His parents, brothers and sisters all live in the former D.D.R. and had warned him not to join the Hutterites. Now he said that he receives no mail whatsoever from his family, even though he keeps writing to them. Either his letters never leave the community (he has no chance to go to the post office himself and also has no money for stamps!) or the replies are not given to him. He can do nothing about this because he has not one single penny of his own. No one on the Bruderhof has pocket money.
He came to the Michaelshof because of a newspaper article. Also he read Michael Holzach's book, The Forgotten People, after which he contacted the Bruderhof in Birnbach. He was welcomed warmly, waited on hand and foot with food and drink. Everything seemed pure sunshine and joy in the same manner in which all the TV and members of the Press were welcomed there. He and his wife were impressed and decided to join. They were accepted into the Novitiate almost immediately (he only arrived this past March). He let his beard grow, but now has shaved it off in protest. When the time came for some serious talks to lead them onto the right path of Church Community, even though he disagreed on some matters, he decided to take the bad with the good, and asked forgiveness for his sins.
What happened next was like a nightmare. The first thing he was told was that he would have to separate from his wife because he had confessed that this was his second marriage and could not be recognized by the Hutterites! Their nine-month-old baby was to be placed in another family to be cared for there as it was "legally illegitimate." To their pleas to at least be allowed some time with the baby in the evenings, they were told that 'Small children should go to sleep early!' Now the baby has pneumonia and is very sick because the bedroom is damp and cold, but the community will not let them call a doctor for their baby. Even the fact that Mr. W. was now able to come and see us was only possible because he is under medical care himself and his physician gave him ten days of sick leave to help him get his life together again.
To visit a doctor on a personal level is very complicated. Indeed, no one is allowed to go alone. There is always another brother or sister who goes with them. However the doctor insisted on speaking to him alone, and then telephoned the Child Welfare Department. But Welfare had no room for him at the moment, but if he could find a possibility of housing, they would pay his rent. He most certainly now wants to leave this area as soon as possible because he is afraid of the Hutterites and the influence they have on him as well as on his wife.
He told us, "When you ask for the Novitiate, many deep and serious talks are held with the person concerned. You will have to reveal 'all your sins' so that you will find grace in God's eyes."
Also any crimes or contacts with the police have to be confessed. All these talks are taped and now he is very afraid that all these tapes may be used against him. He told us about a man called "Jim" who left the Community and the Hutterites found his new address through the registration office. When Jim had found a new job, the Hutterites took his tape to his new employer who fired him at once for not telling him about a conviction and prison term he had had in the past.
Because you have to get rid of the "little ego," you have to leave all your personal documents and papers at the Community office. Every evening the members meet for long and difficult discussions. They are told to be friendly to the Birnbach villagers so that people will be convinced that they are harmless and good people. The group seems to be held in balance by three different levels of committees. The "highest personage" here in Birnbach, next to Mr. Barth and Mr. Zumpe, is Mr. Detlef Mahnke. Mr. Mahnke has a great power to convince a person in all matters. He is a real ideologist and always looks after the newcomers.
They are planning to move the Nigeria community to the Michaelshof, and also more members from the States are due to arrive shortly because the communities there have too many members. That is why they want to -- have to -- build, and build quickly! The expansion plans are almost finished, and the Community is trying to let various other organizations get so wrapped up in their own little part of the planning that the Bruderhof can get what they want by sliding through the normal regulations. They have plans for dwelling-houses that can be used as a workshop during the daytime. All their machinery is very modern and can be stored away at night.
All members strive to give every ounce of their strength. Even the oldest people are not allowed to sit still but have to work many hours every day. It is all for the greater glory of God! Also they are not allowed to talk much during working hours because it distracts from what they are doing. The Hutterites are rich -- very rich -- and earn well with their equipment for the disabled. They keep in daily contact by telephone and Fax, and even have their own airplanes in the States. They have their own business telephone network and it is not unusual to report to the States for two hours on the phone about some children's festival.
But the worst thing is that you are completely cut off from the outside world! It is also dangerous that you don't have any worries at all. Your laundry is washed and ironed for you, all the food is ready on the tables. If you live there for an extended period, you will forget how to take care of yourself. If you do not take your chance and leave in time, no doubt when you do leave you will end up under the bridges with the homeless. You will have given all your possessions to the Community and they will not give you back anything at all to make a new beginning once you feel that you want to leave. Mr. W. also had turned over all he had, which was not as much as some of the other new members, through which the Bruderhof is actually getting richer and richer.
The worst is when someone in the Community has sinned. No one is allowed to talk with this person and he is shunned completely. Mr. W. believes this is also true for the children. It is very bad what is happening to the children there. Social Security should be warned to inspect the place. But this would be of no use, because such an inspection has to be announced and the Community can change things around and make it all look so perfect. Somehow everyone keeps an eye on everyone, and as all the doors always have to be open, you feel spied on all day. It really is worse than prison! After his first impression of the place, he never thought such a thing could be possible!
The real threat came after his disillusion with the life, and the fear that he would be transferred to America -- even to the Old Order Hutterite colonies where life seems even stricter and where it is absolutely impossible to get away!
Mr. W. asked us why we did not agree to be interviewed by the Press, so we told him about our experiences with the media. He lives in the big yellow building. The Russian family that lived there before him has been moved to the States. He is very frightened that the Community will not let him leave, and his wife seems to be in tears all day long. Today he overheard a discussion in the kitchen in which there was talk about their moving to Woodcrest, and this was the cause for all his panic. There would be much more to report about this talk today, but Mr. W will give all of his experiences to Protocol once he has managed to leave the Michaelshof without too much trouble.
June 14, 1991: A Handwritten Note from the Family W. who on Monday declared that they wanted to leave the Bruderhof.
We want to leave the Bruderhof as soon as possible because of the very harsh suppression here!
We beg the people of Birnbach to help us!
We were so happy and relieved to be free from the walls around eastern Germany, but this prison is much worse than anything we have experienced before. We will give you all the details of this tyranny once we have managed to leave.
Signed, W. and R.W.
June 14, 1991: A few hours after the first note, the following typewritten letter was delivered by Registered Mail:
Dear Mrs Schwalm! Dear Mr. Schwalm!
We want to thank you for lending us D.M. 200, but hereby want to return the money as we do not need it any longer. We are cared for well here. We do want to ask forgiveness for all the upheaval that we have caused. We made much noise about nothing, and it wasn't consistent with the truth. This was very wrong of us.
We would like you to send us the bill for the room you reserved for us. We really want to pay for the disturbance we have caused. We thank you for all the help you offered to give us. We are thankful and happy for the offer. Would you kindly return the receipt we have signed and also a copy of the letter we signed?
Thank you! With friendly greetings,
Wolfgang & Rosemarie Wendt
Handwritten P.S. We would like to say to both of you that this decision is made of our own free will. We are deeply distressed and grieved to have hurt the love and grace of God in this manner. Oh, may our God Almighty forgive us this deep disgrace and sin! W. and R.
Mennonite Reporter 4/3/95: Bruderhof and Kleinsasser Hutterites Part Company
by Wilma Derksen
Wininipeg, Manitoba. -- A flurry of correspondence and angry letters have emerged out of the Hutterite colonies and the Bruderhof pointing to an unexpected new controversy and possible split. This activity became public through "An Open Letter from the Bruderhof," written on behalf of all its members by J. Christoph Arnold.
"As soon as a group is united anywhere in the world," writes Arnold, "the devil is not far behind. He has been very active -- so much so that now there is another break between us..."
This unexpected split is between the Bruderhof based in New York, also known as the Arnoldleut, and the Schmiedeleut Hutterite group led by Jacob Kleinsasser in Manitoba. In Arnold's letter, printed in the winter 1995 issue of he criticizes the total Hutterian church by saying their "witness has been almost completely lost." Arnold writes that in many of the Hutterite colonies, members are withholding money and other goods for themselves in spite of their vows to relinquish all private property. "There is little or no spiritual leadership, and ministers are no longer true servants of their flocks but lord it over them, seeking to increase their personal authority... Alcoholism is rampant, even among some community leaders. Premarital sex is widespread and there are illegitimate children."
The Bruderhof say they have tried to stay in conversation. "We have pleaded many times with the leaders of the Hutterites in Canada and the Dakotas to recognize that we all need to change and that this change must begin in the leadership of the church. Sadly our pleas have been rejected and deeply resented," writes Arnold.
May Be Excluded
We love our brothers and sisters in the western colonies, and we want to remain faithful to them. Yet to our shock we have heard that... a meeting will be held in which we the Bruderhof communities may officially be excluded from the Hutterian Church."
Mennonite Reporter was not able to obtain a record of the meeting or of an official action of the Hutterian Church. However, one report from Palmgrove, Nigeria, referred to several Bruderhof members of the colony being expelled. Also, a November 4, 1995, memo from Milton Zimmerman, a Bruderhof member, hinted that Christoph Arnold and his wife Verena were shunned in Manitoba. Zimmerman writes that Verena has "not yet recovered from... the experience of being sent away from the wedding in Crystal Spring."
The relationship between the Bruderhof and the other three Hutterite Leut... has always been uneasy... The Bruderhof were excluded from the Leut for the first time in 1955 and then reunited in 1974. They were excluded from the Leut again in 1990 but remained in good relationship with the splinter group of the Schmiedeleut, led by Jacob Kleinsasser. It was this relationship that was partly responsible for the split between the Kleinsasser Schmiedeleut a more traditional Schmiedeleut in 1992, which is still sorting itself out in Manitoba. The Leut have tended to see the Bruderhof as too aggressive and controlling. Because of the Hutterian lifestyle, alliances are very close-knit; that was especially true of the Arnold and Kleinsasser...
Most Tragic Impact
The KIT Newsletter reports that the Bruderhof "have (or will soon) put aside the Hutterite costume, including beards (optional)." The Michaelshof community in Germany is being sold. "The most tragic impact of this split," reports the newsletter, "will be on the 22 intermarried couples and their immediate relatives, who will have to decide which side of the family to shun."
Because the key players in the split are very close-mouthed, it is hard to know the cause of this latest development. There are some who believe that the rift began when Jacob Kleinsasser, who is now elderly and in poor health, opened up elections for an assistant. There were three nominations: the third name was Christoph Arnold, leader of the Bruderhof. Arnold, who came in third, was not elected...
ITEM: KIT has been informed by various reliable sources that the Bruderhof lawsuit filed in Nigeria bearing Dick Domer's signature -- and the stamp of a London notary public -- is now called 'a forgery' by some Bruderhof leaders. However Christoph himself some weeks earlier told a Mennonite Weekly journalist that the Bruderhof was attempting to freeze the Palmgrove community's assets. To our knowledge, there is only one way to freeze corporate assets, and that is in a court of law. A more up-to-date report coming from the Hutterite colony states that the Nigeria lawsuit has been thrown out of court (just as the Bruderhof's Nigerian attorney told them would happen) because in Nigeria you cannot sue a church corporation -- you must charge an individual. The judge gave the Bruderhof a week to amend their complaint, but since almost a month has passed, it may be that the Bruderhof has indeed withdrawn their lawsuit. Also, could it be that the talking-to Christoph received from Hutterite ministers during his abortive private jet trip to Manitoba, the scathing letter he received from the C.A.C. Bishop-in-Charge in Nigeria (KIT VII #4, p.1) have combined with the judge's ruling to suddenly remind him that Christians of the persuasion to which he professes to belong do not rely on the worldly courts. Meanwhile, things appear to be going very smoothly in Palmgrove under the guidance of Crystal Spring Hutterites. "We are still there and we will stay there," one Hutterite brother commented.
LATE NEWS: As of May 1st, Christoph himself has stated that the lawsuit has been withdrawn.
Pedro Gneiting, 4/15/95: Congratulations once again for a most interesting and informative issue. I want especially to thank John Stewart for his account of his years on the Bruderhof. It is reports such as his that give those of us who have been off the 'hof for so many years a good feel for what is really going on back home. While I never made it any further than a short stint in the Gemeindestunde, and so cannot say too much about the issue of church discipline, I can remember how whenever we went through a 'crisis,' either as a group or on our own, people would come out of the woodwork with incidents from the past in which they felt that I/we had not shown the right spirit, or had been disrespectful, or some other claim. We were expected to remember the incidents and write them down accordingly, and if God forbid we couldn't remember anything, we were challenged and threatened with longer separations in the hopes of getting a confession. Never was the issue brought up of why, if these events were so bad, the brothers present at the time had not taken any action. If they had seen something and had done nothing, they were just as guilty as we were. I asked this question many times of many people, but never received an answer.
Now on to Christoph. I wrote him long, long letters several times in the years after I left, asking him many of the same questions that others have asked, about his actions, his words, and the general direction that the 'hof was taking. Not once did I receive an answer from him. Instead I received letters from G. Burleson, D. Johnson and my father telling me to leave Christoph alone, and why was I biting the hand that fed me for so many years. No one ever gave me any answers. As a young people growing up on the 'hof, we heard countless times how we all are weak sinners and that we constantly must seek forgiveness for our many shortcomings. But I asked, "If this is so, how come Christoph and his family are granted exceptions and are without reproach?" Again, no answer. After several years, I finally was granted a face-to-face audience with Christoph and was only too eager to ask him these same questions. We went for the standard "walk in the woods" and I asked him why I and my three brothers had not been notified of our sister's wedding, and had to find out about it from one of the other boys (she had already been diagnosed with cancer). He told me that the reason was that inasmuch as she was receiving chemotherapy, she did not have many good days. So that when she had a few, they quickly decided to hold the wedding!!!
I asked why no one even phoned us. I could have accepted not being able to come, but not being told, that was just too cruel. When we asked our family, they told us that they were told that we had been notified. Typical Bruderhof behavior. And then they turn around and ask, "What have we ever done to you to deserve this treatment?" When my sister was dying, Christopher Winter tried to keep us three brothers from coming to see her for the last time. He said that we brought "a bad spirit." If it wasn't for my younger sister insisting that we be called, we would have missed her passing. Even our parents were cowed into accepting these decisions, and that hurt even worse!
As far as Christoph's IQ goes -- I won't get into that, although his lack of insight into Christianity and inability to speak spontaneously beyond the few standard phrases is noticed by everyone. It is only now that I have left that I realize how little most of the people up there read and understand the Bible. If anyone is pressed to define their stand on any issue such as abortion, the death penalty or politics, they respond with generalizations, totally unable to back up their views with biblical references. A debate with any sort of substance is out of the question.
It was this realization that made me start to read, and once again examine, religious writings in the hope of developing my own beliefs and convictions. And while I am too deeply wounded by "organized religion" to join any church, who knows what will happen in the future? Sorry for my ramblings, but once I tap into these feelings and memories I just can't stop. I hope in the future that those who used to be the recent leadership and who now have left will attempt to set things right by writing detailed accounts of what really went on at Servants' meetings, and what the real issues are behind such events as the split with the Hutterites, as well as the truth behind the gun permit/ownership issue, Christoph's vacations and the special privileges for his children, etc. I believe it is the least they can do to try to repair some of the damage they helped to cause.
On a happier note, all of us Gneitings are doing well, with several new arrivals to swell the ranks of what has become for us our family since we have been denied access to out loved ones on the 'hof. A wonderful and sun-blocked summer to all!!!
Ann Button to her father, to her brother Paul and to Christian Domer, 4/3/95: Dad, once again it's all about you, isn't it? You don't listen, you don't try to feel what I'm expressing. You just act defensively. You know me -- you know I'm radical and too honest at times, but this is when I feel very strongly about something. I don't even think we still have a relationship anymore, except maybe in spirit. I know I live for truth, goodness and love. I want you to know that I am not afraid to die. I fight for goodness around me every day. Don't worry about my soul. God will take care of it.
Paul: I was surprised to get a letter from you. I don't know where you got the idea that I am trying to separate you from the community. I am trying to have you all stop dealing with me in such an arrogant, judgemental way, but I don't want you to leave. I can understand that you have chosen to live there, and find happiness and fulfillment there. I don't want you to give up what you believe in. I won't. It really surprises me that the whole Xmas tragedy [an abortive attempt by Ann and Steve to visit their parents on the 'hof - ed] is all about you and your feelings. I am your little sister, and yet you give no thought to my hurt. I guess you think I deserve to be hurt.
Christian: I am surprised how personally you took my letter. It must have struck some guilt in you. Speaking of opulent lifestyles: Nemacolin [a resort next to the New Meadow Run Bruderhof - ed] staff volunteered many stories about the (as they said) "leaders" of the commune reserving expensive conference rooms to watch football games, renting airplanes, large debts being paid in cash, etc. etc. I don't believe you are hard up for money.
How can you take my mother, father, brother and sister away from me and then ask me for a four-thousand-dollar payback? When you as an organization allow me to visit my family freely, I will consider paying you (Society of Brothers) back. By the way, the government financial aid forms calculated the family contribution to my education to be $900. a semester. I went to school for five years. You had better stop having so many kids if you aren't willing to support/help them become productive people in the world today.
The way you stuck little "loving" phrases in your letter between your sarcastic quotes from my letter made me sick. I would tell you to go straight to hell, but I think you have taken care of this all on your own. Sincerely,
Ramon Sender: In the middle of March, I received a phone call from Joe Keiderling saying that he was in the San Francisco Bay Area and would like to meet with me. I agreed.
He showed up two hours late, and unexpectedly, in the company of Christian Domer. Since wrong words had been attributed to me by Bruderhof members in the past, I turned on the cassette recorder.
Unfortunately the meeting was a non-meeting of minds and hearts.
Christian keep repeating, "Leave us in peace." And both of them complained about inaccurate reporting in KIT but refused to answer my follow-up questions.
For example: regarding the matter of Joe Keiderling being kicked out of Palmgrove (for which we have a Servant's transcript of a phone conversation with him from Nigeria describing how unwelcome he was); or regarding the Michaelshof, about which Christian said that KIT was 'completely wrong'; or about the Western Hutterites' financial involvement in the German venture, regarding which the Crystal Spring leadership stated to me explicitly that it was their cash that purchased Haus Waldfrieden, the first property in Birnbach, and that their financial involvement indeed continued after the purchase of the Michaelshof. I was told that "Hutterite carpenters saved many tens of thousands in building costs..." Also the April/May 1989 Plough refers on page 5 to "the joint east-west Hutterian beginning in Germany." And I have been told by other irrefutable sources that colony funds helped purchase the Michaelshof.
I was puzzled as to why Christian and Joe seemed so touchy about this issue. Perhaps their position reflects Woodcrest's corporate fears that Crystal Spring might want to be reimbursed.
They would not discuss the phone bugging of an ejected family's home, nor were they interested in a third-party conflict resolution meeting. They repeated that the reasons for the KIT/Bruderhof stalemate were "much deeper" than what we were discussing, that it was at the "core of the soul," and the only way to address it was to "look back at Ramon's life."
My wife Judy joined us halfway through the encounter but also was unable to make headway against the noncommunicative posture of the two brothers. I really wondered, afterwards, why they had bothered coming.
When I mailed them cassette copies of the conversation, I stated that "I would like to publish an edited version of our conversation... if that's okay with you." They replied as follows:
Joe Keiderling, 3/27/95: Dear Ramon: Yes, we received the cassettes... After consideration, we request that no portion of the transcript be printed. After our conversation, we feel that any attempt to dialog with KIT as a group will lead us nowhere. We were pained at how difficult it was to communicate with even one member of the KIT network when we sat together with you, and we find it difficult to imagine addressing an entire group as diverse as KIT on this basis.
We do, however, request that you print this letter in KIT. If you do, I would like to comment that our position has been beautifully stated in a letter that appeared in the February issue of KIT. There, Chip Wilson wrote of his experiences far better than I could have done, and I'd like to quote just two passages from that letter:
I realize now that it is a great blindness that afflicts those who visit a Bruderhof community and fail to discern the miracle that is taking place around them every moment. I believe there is only one cause for this blindness, and that is the sin of pride, of self- importance, of arrogance. This is what causes people to resist recognizing their true condition before God and forces them to build up elaborate defenses to protect them from appearing before others as they really are. I am guilty of this sin. I rushed to agree with your views on the Bruderhof because if I could prove to myself that the Bruderhof was a cult, it would relieve me from the necessity of confronting my own pride and the many other wrongs in my own life. For this I apologize.
As I reflected on the current impasse between KIT and the Bruderhof, a passage from the Book of Acts kept coming to mind. When the Pharisees wanted to silence Peter and the other apostles and shut down their movement, the wise leader Gamaliel counseled that it would be better to leave them alone, saying" If this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God! (Acts 5:38-39)
Even though Chip obviously put a great deal of thought into this letter, to my knowledge, no one has made any attempt at a serious, thoughtful rejoinder from your side. Why is that? It may be that you have had some direct contact with Chip, but I believe he would have told me about it.
Christian and I remain open and willing to speak to anyone on an individual basis, person-to-person. Feel free to write or fax if you have any further input.
Ramon: It may be that the reason no one answered Chip Wilson's letter is that Chip wrote in a subsequent letter: "I request that this letter end our dialog until such time when you will cease to accuse us at the Bruderhof of being a cult."
But if the Bruderhof is not a cult, if there is validity to their religious posture, how is it that they are not willing to meet us with the love that Jesus teaches is due to one's enemies? After all, they have staked a claim to the moral high ground – and with such professed humility.
We will forgo publication of the transcript of their visit, not only because Christian and Joe requested non-publication, but also because it was, as all seem to agree, a disappointing meeting.
Lee Kleiss: This year I have a lot more time to myself -- not too much, as I'm still working full time and at 68 a little slower. I also manage to pick up the kids for drawing or dog- training classes if such opportunities arise. But over Christmas vacation I had lots of time, until I was suddenly needed to take care of the kids -- Christmas letters aren't all sent yet.
Then early in February we started a new adult class in church. Because of the children, I have been attending a church, Disciples of Christ denomination, because 7 years ago the Friends Meeting had shrunk to two adults. The minister, Jean, is leading us on a "incarnational spirituality course". I hate the language she uses. I have my hang-ups. As part of it, she asked us to keep a journal -- so here I'll quote.
Feb 14th: It seems the time has come for me to again put some inner thoughts down on paper. Not out of desperation like on the Bruderhof -- but out of sheer joy. Why? Finally -- stimulated by Carl Upchurch's visit (a young Black who spent much of his youth in and out of reform school and prison). Very much like Nathan McCall who wrote "Makes Me Want To Holler". In prison, Carl came across literature and that began to change his life around. He rose to prominence when he organized a Gang Summit.
Another aside: Carl emphasized the tremendous need to affirm people, especially young people. It's great that Ruth felt affirmation with the Hutterites. Since the February KIT, every time my Socks, the youngest dog, wags his tail, Ramon, I see God affirming me!
Carl's visit touched a nerve. I was reminded of my many successes with weekend work camps. Was I doing the right thing? Am I excusing myself from activity because of the family? Was I too involved with my family?
Reflecting backward, I really have to admit that getting out of inner city and racial conflict/civil rights activities was not really my choice. It is easier to see one has been lead, looking backward, but hard to feel the leading or knowing where one ought to go.
February 16th: The February KIT arrives -- What a letter! Ramon and some of the "Children of the Bruderhof" really spilled their guts to help Chip. I especially love Ramon's "Big Yes". It is the "Big Yes" on good and positive that makes me so comfortable with Quakers.
My big comment on the printed exchange is to remind us of the story analogy of the wheat. Yes, some must be ground to flour, and others must die in the ground only to give rise to new plants STRONG, UPRIGHT AND INDIVIDUAL. I feel we are this latter wheat.
An earlier KIT published a letter by Kleinsasser, a Hutterite who described the "Church" in such a way as I sensed it was made up of individual people, with individual minds, a wheatfield wafting about in the wind, in contrast to the single voice from the Bruderhof. My question is: "Since single stalks don't usually survive well (that's even true of trees, when the surrounding forest has been removed.) what can we do to help each other? I really feel that the February KIT is a paradigm change. There is no Bruderhof bashing, or even each-other bashing, but a mere "I would only reiterate that, when Christoph falls -- as he must -- we will offer him the same hand of friendship that we offered each other".
Yes, participating in a church group, or any kind of support group, helps. But somehow our KIT group unity is deeper. For example, recently there was a brief article in our newspaper of a ten-year-old escaping from a religious commune, currently in a group shelter, but her 18-year-old brother is trying to get custody. I called Ann Button. First I had to tell her that I had tried my very best 33 years ago to prevent her and Steve from being born. Then I explained how 33 years ago, Ed Dunlop and I had tried to dissuade the Buttons and another Detroit family from joining the Bruderhof. On their own, already burdened with 4 children, the Buttons probably wouldn't have had the last two. I do appreciate Ann and Steve. I met them over Thanksgiving.
Here's the unity I mean. When I called Ann, she immediately wanted all the details and said she'd call Social Services the next day. I do not know what happened -- but felt that Ann and Steve, who had grown up in the community, could speak to the needs of such a child better. Thanks for KIT! It does a great service! Love and kisses and keep up the good work,
Name Withheld to Bette Bohlken-Zumpe, 4/21/95: This morning I wanted to write letters and do all kinds of things, but then the KIT newsletter came through my door and I read and read until I was through all the different contributions that people had sent. The story of John Stewart hit me, as I was a visitor in Woodcrest at the same time (1988-1990). At that time I had a dream that I did not understand. Now, remembering this dream, it suddenly makes sense.
I dreamt that somehow I had gone to a meeting by mistake. Everyone had to take off their shoes and they had brought little bags to wrap them in. Somehow my bag was swapped with someone else's bag, and I started shouting for help, but there was no one to help me. Everybody seemed arrogantly concerned with their own business. In the middle of the room stood an altar decorated with black and white tinsel, in front of which a lady was dancing made up in the same colored tinsel. I became very angry and shouted for help, throwing everything on the floor and crying, "Why doesn't anybody help me to find my father?!"
Reading John Stewart's story somehow brought the dream to mind and also its meaning. In my deepest self, I was feeling that all these community people live as if they were under a glass bell with a lack of oxygen. They all feel the dishonesty and indifference toward each other (black & white) and they have all protected themselves against running away from the place by "taking off their shoes and wrapping them up." Shoes also symbolize standing on one's own feet. No one helped me find my 'father,' the male intellect side of myself. And no one answered my questions.
Through John Stewart's report, I understand many things much better, especially the members' conduct towards each other. They avoid every serious discussion or change of thought, and like to answer all questions in a friendly but superficial way. Even when I was visited later, I often had the feeling that I could not really talk to them. The very obvious likeness to the D.D.R. [East Germany - ed] and the psychological state of affairs on the B'hof is shocking. I feel deeply saddened that all my dreams for mankind seem to go up in smoke. It's not so much a sadness for myself, but I did see in the Bruderhof a way of life that was like a Christian example to mankind! But there is nothing in this world that is not from this world. Therefore this community will have to colapse one day, and someone will run off with the bank accounts! Could it not be true that the idea to give up the Michaelshof was born out of a real fear? All the official churches had just agreed to get into a discussion about the Bruderhof's ideas! In this case, "the word and the deed" would have been tested! The Holy Spirit never did lead me to Jesus in this way. I always have seen in Jesus a brave, historical and revolutionary figure. I do believe, though, that keeping women so much under the control of men comes from the man's fear of losing power. I think that the constant striving for power is the tragedy of our human existence!
I was also very shocked about a contribution by one of your nephews. Just the sentence: "The Nazis used this weakness to discredit the Bruderhof..." is an atrocious ignorance of what the Nazis really were! Again it is a completely brainwashed idea! I wonder if the Arnold family has members of reduced intellect. I think your book is very according-to-fact and fair, although it is true that in any story or account, the author writes from his or her point of view. He who wants the absolute truth will have to ask God and, as we all know, he has promised to be with us at a later date. The story in KIT of the theft of the old grandmother's coffin is rather strange, but I do not know who the "Gibb people" are. I loved the story about "Daniel." Wouldn't our life be boring if nature did not provide such feelings of love and excitement!
I would just love to look into the hearts of all those honest brothers and sisters! I think there is a lot of unhappiness and ill feelings. I wonder if Christoph is not the victim of a group of power- hungry members. I feel he is not very learned and not able to see through the ideas of fools. He is the ideal sort of person to be manipulated by others because he cannot look beyond this at all. I think he is maneuvered into a position. If I think of all the lovely little houses at his disposal, then at least he will be "cared-for" when the big collapse comes! But my respect for all those truth-seeking people in the Community remains as it as been before. There are so many I love and respect! I love the "free Spirit," and I think your grandfather Eberhard was one of those very free and loving spirits.
Ramon Sender, 4/20/95: Judy and I had an absolutely glorious time on our two-week trip to Spain to attend a literary congress dedicated to my father's work.
Our first flight to Paris was delayed which meant we missed our connection. So we spent the night at the home of Judy's "French Mom". She took us to a family dinner where we met many of her relatives and ate wonderful Sephardic food. We then took the morning plane to Madrid, where we were met by an old friend, a former student teacher of Judy's.
We arrived at the Hotel Pedro Primero at 6 PM. to find flowers, candy, a beautiful photograph book from the Instituto des Estudios Alto-Aragoneses.
The literary congress brought "Senderistas" and "Senderianos" from everywhere to present papers. I had been bumped upstairs to the "Committee of Honor" along with the His Excellency President of the Chamber of Deputies of Aragon, His Excel. Rector Magnifico of Zaragoza University, etc. etc. They all are addressed "Excellentissimo" or "Illustrissimo" depending on whether they're in politics or in education! There I sat like the ring in the nose of a Martian warthog, basically unable to open my mouth without sounding like a demented alien, which of course I am. I was pulled here and tugged there, photographed shaking hands with various and sundry 'issimos', and then we had the first lecture of the Congress at 8 PM.
The second day interspersed lectures with groups of 4 fifteen- minute presentations in separate rooms. Since most of the scholars' papers were longer than the time allotted, they delivered their offerings in machine-gun Spanish during which I would somnificate and allow my subconscious to bathe in the Castillian tongue -- a strange experience.
The third day we awoke late, glanced at the clock -- 9:25 -- the bus excursion to the two small villages left in five minutes! We threw on some clothes, and I grabbed the camcorder. Once again a wave of dignitaries, all in suits and ties. We wore 'climb-up-cobblestone- streets' clothes, which I think were considered 'natty' in a southern California way. The first stop, the village of Chalamera. The site of RJS's birthplace is now a terrace with a post in the center and a bust of the author on top. The tilt of his head and windswept beard gave him a sort of pirate expression I thought he would have liked.
I yanked the cloth from the plaque to the applause of the village crowd, as the press captured the moment. We then visited the church, chatted with the priest. Judy wanted to visit the "Ramon J. Sender" school, but the kids were on holiday, so we proceeded up to the street that had been renamed "Calle Ramon J. Sender", and once again I yanked the sheet off the street sign and everyone clapped.
By now, a certain amount of surrealism had begun to set in. Here I was, celebrating a man who, as a father, had been not a great success for me and my sister. Yet I was performing in his place as the guest of honor. I must confess that the previous day, anticipating the unveiling of the bust, I had toyed with the idea of making a "performance art" piece out of the event. "I'll pour a bottle of something over his head," I decided. I carried a bottle of Pepto Bismol with me to the event as a 'baptismal possibility,' without telling Judy. But it just wasn't a good idea. First I had to shake hands with the sculptor, a woman who was obviously eager to have me admire her creation. My little theater piece would have hurt the feelings of too many good people, so I just let the current carry me along.
The buses then took us to Alcolea de Cinca, a small town of about 3000 next to the river Ebro. Here I dedicated yet ANOTHER street and then a fountain in a little park next to the mill next to the river. We were greeted there, aside from the mayor and a bunch of dignitaries, by 14 of the Garces tribe, my father's mother's family. They were really sweet, although the gene pool may have gone a little shallow. One young man, obviously retarded, had parents who were first cousins and "their parents were first cousins." The grandma went into ecstasy, and ran home to fetch Judy a lace handkerchief that she had crocheted. We attended another lecture, and then a brief talk by a 90+-year-old cathadratico, a professor with Parkinson's Disease who recalled sharing the same music teacher with my father. Then it was off to the gymnasium, for paella [rice, chicken, onions, peppers, seafood-ed] for 300. The paellas were served in four-foot-in-diameter pans. I sat next to the Provincial Governor, Judy next to me, the only woman at the main table. It was interesting, to note how, with a few notable exceptions, women definitely played second fiddle to the men.
Several days later we attended the last two of the fifteen-minute presentations, one of which I hoped would be a feminist view. It was titled "Psychology of the Author and the Logic of the Female Characters: Star, the Adolescent Anarchist; Amparo (not my mother), the Bourgeois Fiancee; and Theresica the Mystic." However the presenter seemed to be more interested in the literary aspects and did not address my father's top-heavy machismo, so obvious in his books -- and his life.
Friday was the last day, and while a woman professor from Kentucky lectured about "The Last Sender: A Mythology for 'Our Incongruent Times'," Judy and I were meeting with the Governor of the Province to explore the possibility of inviting King Juan Carlos to be the patron of the Sender Foundation. The Governor seemed to like the idea and offered to approach the Casa Real (Royal House).
We made the second lecture, "The Participation of Sender in the War In Spain," by an Italian woman professor with whom we had spent a few evenings. In her book in Italian, she criticizes my book, A Death in Zamora, pretty severely, especially in an appendix titled "Oedipus against Theseus" in which she analyzes my view of my father as a working out of a Oedipal complex ('son kills father'). She also corrects some of my dates and theories about why my father disappeared so precipitously from the front lines in December, 1936. Of the latter I think she now has the correct version. But as for her Freudian theory, I did not spend enough time with my father to develop an "Oedipus complex," plus I think the Freudian approach to such matters must certainly have been superseded by now.
Afterwards I thanked her, and said that I was glad to hear that Freud was alive and well in Padua, Italy, since he and his theory of 'complexes' certainly are no longer current in the States. I also gave her a written statement by my sister that demonstrated that I had actually treated my father's behavior very gently in my book. She told me the next day that after reading it the previous night she had not found it easy to get to sleep. So perhaps something penetrated her obvious adulatory image of my father. A lot of hero-worship has accumulated around the image of RJS, and of course people want to believe that not only was he a magnificent novelist but somehow also a brave captain, loving father, incisive philosopher, poet, saint etc. Unfortunately, he was only the first of these, and above all a deeply traumatized Spaniard who, when his world collapsed around him, withdrew into the pseudo-world of letters and built his kingdom there. At the closing ceremony after thanking everybody I could think of, I spoke in part as follows:
"It is very difficult for me to find the words to describe the emotions that have overwhelmed me during these days, first of all because I have experienced a profound confrontation with my Aragonese roots and also because I speak Castillian like a Martian. At times during these lectures, the words entered my subconscious like long-distance messages from my infancy. Once more I feel connected to that earliest part of my life, after which I was transplanted to a life in North America that my father described as his 'American parenthesis.' But it lasted 46 years, and it was in that 'parenthesis' that the lives of his children existed. During this time, the world gained an author of great prestige, but his children lost their father -- without having received an explanation.
"I reveal these painful facts with the greatest respect, but I believe it is necessary to do so to understand the depth of my father's wounds. Because of the war and his following exile. RJS, as a writer, was exceptional, as a man, amiable to his friends, but as a father -- a disaster. Now his life is the property of his people and it is important for them to understand that as a man, he lived under the weight of his self-accusations for the death of my mother, Amparo."
If the truth be told, I was very lucky NOT to have grown up with him. In my sister's case, I think it was different. I think she needed him, and also did not receive the same nurturance and love from our American mother as I.
Anyway, our Huesca visit worked out. I don't think any of the Senderianos' noses -- or the family's -- were put too badly out of joint, and I don't feel as if I 'lived a lie' in order not to 'rock the boat.' Judy made a very good statement to the press, some of which appeared in one paper as if I had said it. That's life. I don't quite know how to sum up the Huesca visit except to say that if you're going to be a celebrity, it's best to be one in a country whose language you don't speak and where you don't live, so that you can immediately escape!
Saturday we took the one-hour bus ride to Zaragoza, the provincial capital, to visit Tia Carmen, the youngest sister of my father, and her husband Pepe. Carmen seemed visibly relieved that I had not 'dumped' on her brother.
We walked around the downtown area by ourselves Saturday evening, and then Palm Sunday went down to the main Plaza to watch the procession of the hooded Nazarenos accompanying a statue of Jesus on a donkey. Lots of loud drums, and all a bit spooky. We had just finished a leisurely lunch at 2 p.m. when I looked at our train tickets and noticed that our train had left at ten that morning. Pepe suggested we play the 'dumb tourists' and just show up for the three o'clock, which we did. And since it was a very lightly traveled day, we had no problem getting on the later train.
In Madrid we registered at the same hotel where we had stayed 13 years earlier, since upgraded. Tuesday night we hosted a supper for 20 that included ten relatives from my mother's side (including Aunt Eugenia, 86, my mother's sole surviving sibling), three from my father's, and some close friends including the author Jose Luis Castillo-Puche who escorted my father back to Spain in 1974, and requested the end of Franco's censorship that had kept RJS's books out of print for 45 years. Of course all the little cousins we had met in 1982-83 were now in the university finishing their career studies, or recently married.
The weather in Madrid was unexpectedly summer-like, climbing into the low 80's every day. We spent a lot of time in the Plaza Santa Barbara, just outside the pension where my father lived as a bachelor and where Amparo brought him his retyped manuscripts when she worked as his typist. We had been told that there was a woman still living there who had been a friend of my mother's and has kept her rosary all these years in her safe deposit box. We visited her with Aunt Eugenia in her old somewhat elegant apartment, and she showed us a room that was exactly like the room one floor above that my father had rented. The rosary will make its way to my sister Benedicta, who will treasure it.
All in all, we had a wonderful time, "the best ever in Spain," Judy says, and I agree with her. We could not have been more welcomed, and although there are people on both sides of the family unhappy with my book about my mother, some because they did nothing to save her from death, and others because they hero-worship my father. I think our visit helped to assuage some of these feelings, at least I hope so!
-- In Remembrance of Waltraut Wiegand --
by Bette Bohlken-Zumpe
Waltraut died on November 2, 1994, and I don't think it was mentioned in KIT. Waltraut and Gerhard were kicked out in the 1960s with all their children. Gerhard really wanted to start a new community with all those who were thrown out by Heini and Co. They contacted my father to help them finance Tierberg where they lived together with the Hasenbergs and I think Otto Kaiser, an old Rhoen member who did have quite a good pension. My father as well as "The Brothers of the Common Life" did invest in this venture, but the people were too hurt, too bitter and insecure to really make a new life for themselves and other ex-members passing by. I visited Tierberg in the winter of 1963 and found it a most depressing place. Somehow the Hasenberg family was in the "care" of the Wiegands who were something like po-guazus [bosses - ed]. On my return to the States I asked Heini and Annemarie to send money to the Hasenbergs so they could make a life of their own. The community did send money, but the Hasenbergs gave it to Gerhard for their living costs. Anyway, Waltraut was convinced that if all the ex- members got into contact with each other, we would be able to help each other. She and Lee Kleiss had a circular letter that went to many, many addresses with the aim to find and help others. That was Waltraut's doing, and it was a very first attempt at a KIT newsletter, but the time was not ripe, and most people were concerned with mere survival! Gerhard was a Bruderhof person. We visited them many times on our way to and from visiting my father. Gerhard really wanted to repent and go back to the community. In 1971 his youngest son Johannes died in a one-sided road accident and was only found the next morning. Gerhard wrote to Heini and Annemarie, and they came with a wheelchair (Gerhard had had a stroke) and, without consulting Waltraut and the family, arranged to take him to Darvell with them. Waltraut never did get over this, and in her loneliness put much strain on her daughter, Annelene, who devoted herself to caring for her until Waltraut died. This is what the community has done to destroy this family, the Wiegands.
KIT: As an introduction to the following: May Scott Davis and her husband Harry spent time in Primavera before moving on. May's sister, Olive Rutherford, lives in the Bruderhof with her husband and their family. Their parents were prominent Socialists in Manchester, and instrumental in the founding of The Manchester Guardian newspaper. May died this January at 80 years of age in New Zealand. The magazine Ceramic Review wrote in part:
May Davis, pioneer potter, died in January. Harry and May Davis set up the Crowan Pottery in Cornwall after working at the Leach Pottery, moving to New Zealand in the early 1960s. In the 1970s, they established a local pottery at Izcuchaca in the Peruvian Andes, later returning to New Zealand. After Harry's death, May decorated and fired the pots they had made and biscuited before their Peruvian venture, then went on to explore other crafts -- notably papermaking.
May's daughter Gwen Davis can be reached at Crewenna, Wakapuaka, RD I, Nelson, NZ. Copies of May: Her Story may be ordered from KIT in San Francisco and in the U.K., although it may be a few months before they arrive.
May: Her Story by May Scott Davis
Chapter 3, "The Bruderhof Community"
The Society of Brothers was known as the Bruderhof Community in Germany, where it was founded by Eberhard Arnold after the first world war. The founders were city intellectuals who felt the need to start a new kind of life on the land. They bought a farm, but so little did they know about farming that they paid a farmer to remove a giant pile of manure. How he must have laughed! The group, however, flourished and, after a few years, Eberhard went to the States to make contact with another group, known as Hutterites. These people were the direct descendants of a persecuted religious sect of the sixteenth century, named after Jacob Hutter. Down the centuries, the ideas and the dress of this group had remained unchanged. It was decided that the new group in Germany should affiliate. Perhaps one of the most far-reaching effects of this was the total eclipse of the women as individuals. From then on, they all wore the traditional dress of the early Hutterites, a long skirt and a head handkerchief. They were also not allowed to utter prayers in public but had to accept their men folk as intermediaries between them and God. Nor were they allowed to attend business meetings, or vote on such questions as who should fill positions of authority in the community. The height of absurdity was reached when young bachelors had a vote on who was to be in charge of the baby house, while the women had no say.
From Germany the group went to England and then, after the outbreak of World War Two, to Paraguay. The obvious first choice had been to go to Canada, near their Hutterian brothers, but permission was refused. The next choice was the United States, which also refused. In the end, Paraguay was the only country willing to accept them. First, they settled on the west bank of the river Plate in the Chaco where they suffered terribly from diseases, especially trachoma, an eye disease. By the time I arrived, they had moved to a better site about two days' journey from Asuncion, the capital. They had bought 20,000 acres. In the end, the little group left in England never did join those in Paraguay, but remained and increased their numbers from 3 to 181 in the next nine years.
I travelled out with Nora and her new baby. But first I went up to Manchester to bid farewell to Mimpky and Poppy, as my parents were nicknamed in the family. There were no recriminations, no arguments. Even tears were bravely held at bay, though to them it must have seemed more than likely that they would never see me again. Later my mother wrote, "I admire your courage and idealism, and I blame myself that we have not provided you with a challenge and outlet for it here. I am proud of you, dear.
A truly brave and selfless mother, and I never forgot. Often as a mother myself I remembered how my own mother had given me her full support and hidden her own feelings so that I should not have to carry the burden of knowing I had hurt her.
It was a fairly typical wartime journey. We left from London and sailed up the east coast of England in convoy. We left, of course, at night and no boat showed any lights. Somewhere near the border of England and Scotland on this dark cold winter night we were ordered to put on our life jackets and go to the life boat stations. Suddenly a lone bomber emerged from the clouds, perhaps returning from a raid and with one bomb to get rid of. I don't know, but the bomb fell between our boat and the next. The gunners opened up fire but it was all over so quickly we hardly had time to think what was happening or what could happen. We sailed around the north coast of Scotland to Oban where we joined a much larger convoy. Most of the other boats were going to Africa, but the whole convoy steamed due west across the Atlantic to the United States and we then crept down the coast of America. At the equator, the danger was much less and most of the convoy headed east again to Africa while we carried on south to Buenos Aires. It was a strange journey, wearing Bruderhof clothes, heads covered all the time. It was a cargo boat with only a few passengers, two pious (?) women, both young and attractive, must have been a sure trial to the all-male crew. We discovered later that the deck where we used to stroll in the evenings was put out-of- bounds to the crew by the captain. Charitably seen, he was protecting us from unpleasant advances, less charitably viewed, maybe he was keeping the 'game' for himself. But Nora and I, in our new religious fervour, were proof against any advances. In the evening in our cabin, I offered up prayers for our safe arrival and for the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Paraguay. Nora provided the amens. She always looked to me to make all decisions. Later when I mentioned this evening prayer at the community, there was amazement and smiles. Women did not communicate with the Deity directly, tut-tut!
After eight and a half weeks travelling, we were met in Buenos Aires by friends of the community who saw us onto the river boat which took us on the three day journey to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. We were met by Nora's husband and from there we made another short one-day boat trip to Rosario. There we were met by a Brother with a wagon drawn by two horses. It was a rough, canvas- covered wagon, and we squatted on the luggage inside. We left at 4.00 PM when it was cool, and spent the night at a farm and next day made the rest of the 40 miles. The Brother was bringing back an extra horse and I begged to be allowed to ride and did, despite the difficulties of a long skirt.
The last piece of road was through a dark wood. It was a very rough road and was quite dark. My horse was tired and I could not even see the ground in front, so I didn't like to hurry him for fear he would stumble. A Brother was in front guiding the wagon. It was a weird feeling to be going silently through the darkness, trusting solely to the horse's instinct. Sometimes the branches brushed against me and sometimes the Brother in front would call out, but for a while I seemed to be swallowed in the heart of the night and of Paraguay. At last we emerged from the wood and across a field I saw the lights of the Bruderhof!
Many voices greeted me and many hands were stretched out in the darkness, but I could not see anyone until I was led to the place where they were just finishing supper. Many familiar faces and many new ones were there. They all sang and sang and walked past so that I was able to shake each one by the hand. It was a wonderful end to our long journey.
It was clear from the start that the community urgently needed bricks and roof tiles for more buildings, and I was eager to start. No one knew how to make them or how to build and fire kilns except me. It felt wonderful to be able to help where help was so obviously needed. The brick works was just a big shed and nothing else. We even had to make the bricks to build the kiln. However the clay looked good and there was a spring nearby and wood for firing. I had four men working with me.
Under my guidance we built a big down-draught kiln to be fired with wood. We also made bricks by the slop-moulded method which I had learnt and used in Africa. It was very hard work as I had to lift a piece of clay above my head and throw it with all my strength into the brick mould, then turn it out onto a sanded board. I did this all day. During the lunch break I slept on a 12-inch-wide plank with my arms folded; the plank was about five feet off the ground, but I was so exhausted I never moved or fell off.
The brickworks was about a mile from the 'hof, as the group of dwellings was called, and we walked over each day. It was in really lovely and peaceful surroundings of open grassland with clusters of trees and a long broad valley stretching out in front. We had a horse called Jax who walked round and round mixing the clay in a wooden pug mill. Sometimes I took him over from the 'hof and then I rode. He was docile enough, which was a good thing as I had no saddle or stirrups and was encumbered with the ankle-length skirt.
Plodding across the vast 'camp' (from the Spanish word 'campo' meaning 'field) was a bit boring, so one day I encouraged Jax to trot. Alas with no saddle or stirrups I was helpless, and with each bone- shaking bump, I found myself a bit further forward. I could not pull on the reins and Jax did not understand English. Finally I bounced right over his head and landed in front of him. He stopped abruptly in sheer astonishment and sniffed this pile of clothes which appeared to have fallen from the sky. None the worse for my fall, I led him to the nearest ant hill and climbed on again.
The cattle in the 'camp' were very wild, indeed they were normally caught with lassos. One day I saw a herd a long way off in the distance and realised after a few minutes that about fifty wild beasts were heading for me at a gallop. I judged that I could not make it to the nearest fence. I was on foot and terrified. But again, ant hills had their uses, and I hid behind a large one which was about my height and the herd, having lost sight of their objective, went off at a tangent.
The climate seemed most delectable compared with Achimota. However I was unprepared for the extremes and hadn't brought nearly enough winter clothes. The temperature could drop 40° F (22° C) in the afternoon. One night I'd sleep on my bed in a summer nightgown, the next I'd be under five blankets with a hot bottle! These extremes were a strain physically and the children ran up chills easily which seemed to render them susceptible to dysentery.
Everyone was very kind to me, but it was not like the tiny group in England. It was not possible that it could be. The warm loving contact, the intimacy and cooperation of a few people was a little lost among 300. One could not know every one intimately, so at first it was a little overpowering. Later we hoped to split up into two or three households.
There was so much work to be done, and relatively few people to do it, that a lot of urgently needed work got delayed. All the women were occupied in the kitchen, laundry, sewing room and in looking after the children or the sick. I could have done with about eight men in the brick works but didn't know when or if that would be possible. Many projects simply had to take priority such as work in the gardens, cutting firewood and caring for the horses. Consequently many schemes had to wait, and much talent and specialised knowledge could not yet be used. It was difficult for them to decide which work was to proceed and which was to wait. For me, it felt wonderful to be alive and to have a task and to have hope. The only thing missing from those early halcyon days was Harry.
Although bricks were being produced, most of the community still lived under two big roofs with earth floors, and sacking for partitions to give a little privacy. It was very crowded and with the shortage of many things like medical supplies, bandages and winter clothes, it was nearly impossible to prevent infections and contagious diseases from going the rounds of the children. I had a bed, a chair and trunk under the bed for my clothes. There was just room to dress. We lived mostly on mandioca (cassava in Africa), a fair amount of meat, oranges galore in season, and vegetables. There was only enough milk for sick people and children. We had plenty of honey and eggs. We got up at 5 AM to work in the gardens while it was lovely and cool, before breakfast at 7 AM. We worked until 6 PM or later. The communal breakfast was chopped mandioca fried in what Harry was later to insist must have been tallow, and it was served on a tin plate with a spoon; a mug of tea with no milk or sugar completed the meal. The evening meal was eaten outside by the light of a big oil lamp swinging from a tree.
If it was raining, we crammed into whatever building seemed most empty. After the evening meal there was invariably a devotional meeting called a 'Gemeindestunde'. There was purposely no free time, and private activity was frowned upon. The only break was during a business meeting when the women got a free evening
Life went on. Letters from Harry were extremely rare and letters to mother took nearly three months as the community could not afford for everyone to write by airmail. All I knew was that Harry was trying to join me, but it was wartime and there were no passenger boats, and there were of course submarines roaming the seas. Often I had nightmares... boats going down with blue-green water pouring into them. I believed that if Harry was drowned I might not get to know for years, perhaps never.
As time went on, my feelings about the community became more ambivalent. It must have been about a year when little things began to worry me. The community had a deliberate policy of not telling inquirers and newcomers more about the community than they judged would be acceptable. They said, "you don't feed a baby meat". For instance, if an agnostic asked if they believed in God, the answer was a light-hearted "What's in a name?" This was a gross travesty of the truth about their views. So it came about -- as in my own case -- that people joined without really understanding their full position.
As small unacceptable details came to light, I would tend to think "It's a small thing, not reason enough to reject the whole," and so it went on. The more I learnt, the less I liked it all, but what to do? To speak out would mean first advice, then censure, and finally rejection. To be rejected was to be asked to leave and the prospect of that was truly daunting, for I was young and penniless. I had given everything to the community. I had no knowledge of Spanish, and worst of all, I felt that if I moved away from the community, Harry might never find me again. I was naive and inexperienced in the ways of the world and never realised the functions of a British Embassy; indeed it never crossed my mind that I could perhaps have got help there. So I swallowed my criticisms and kept my mouth shut. Gradually over the months I ceased to question -- a process called brainwashing, I believe.
It was understood in the community that if a married person came to doubt the absolute rightness of the community's beliefs, their husband or wife was supposed to report them and the couple was then separated to stop the rot spreading. In the eyes of the elders, loyalty to the community came before any human loyalty, such as marriage. Indeed this was expressly stated in their marriage ceremony. In the event of someone actually leaving the community, the right course for their husband or wife could not be questioned; it was to stay in the community for, according to them, 'the least in the community is greater than the greatest outside'. I thought of people like Albert Schweitzer, but said nothing. I felt rather isolated, though I did have some women friends, but letters were read and censored so I could not discuss anything with my mother or old friends in England. One friendship was stopped. I was accused of being a lesbian, but the accusation was hedged about with euphemisms and, in any case, I had never heard of lesbians so I never discovered what I had done wrong.
Reading was forbidden, for to read a book which your Brothers and Sisters were not also reading was 'divisive'. A Brother (never a woman) read out loud at meals, but the field was very narrow and consisted almost entirely of the writings of the founders, or the Bible. This was done in either English or German, which was then translated.
One of my friends was Rosemary, a very intelligent French woman. She married the baker, a simple, slow man though nice enough and I wondered if this was in fact one of the many arranged marriages, arranged to suit the community, not the couple in question. They had a baby and after she had got over the birth and returned to 'normal' life, apart from feeding, she saw little of her baby. Her last job of the day and one I was scheduled to help her with, was washing up the dishes from the children's last meal. Poor woman, her baby a little way off in a basket, in front of her a mountain of dishes. She stood and wept as she washed, her whole being crying out to hold her little one. Often I persuaded her to go and tackled the mountain single-handed.
I had been able to keep my beloved violin, and on the occasion of a wedding I was allowed to play part of the Bach Double Concerto with one of the Brothers. It was a big day for me for I had sorely missed my music. I practised late at night (without my head handkerchief) and on the great day discovered, too late alas, the difficulty, indeed near impossibility, of playing with a 'knot of material under the chin! I tuned, he tuned, but he skimped it. He nodded to me to start. "You are not in tune' I whispered, but he only scowled and made ready to start. It was too much for me, such a very special occasion, to be playing maybe for the only time in twelve months and then to have it spoilt by a badly tuned violin. I plucked my 'A', leaned over and plucked his; it was nearly a semitone flat. If looks could kill, I would have ended my life there and then at that wedding. He tuned and we then played (as well as I could with the beastly koptuch.) Later he demanded an apology; it was, he said "unwomanly". The crime it seemed was that a WOMAN was exposing a MAN or, as he put it, a Sister publicly criticising a Brother. It would, it seemed, have been in order if it had been two men, or two women, or a man criticising a woman.
If someone had trouble keeping awake through the long, boring, religious readings, which took place on many evenings, they were expected to discipline themselves by standing. John, in his twenties, stood for more time than he sat, looking gaunt and ill. Six months later he was dead. It was bed he needed, not hours of standing at the end of a hard day's work.
Then there was another Brother, Dieter, who came to doubt. He did so privately, not even talking it over with his wife. He was in charge of the stores, and over six months bit by bit he stole. Food and leather to make a set of harness, and then one night he took a horse and left his wife and five children and made a bid for freedom. What an excitement! Two Brothers went off after him at a gallop. The atmosphere on the 'hof was electric while everyone waited, wondering what would happen. Two days later they all returned. It was part of the creed never to use physical force, but who needs physical force when they have other more powerful weapons? Dieter stood before us all, head bowed, and said how deeply grateful he was to the two Brothers who had made him "see the light", and how much he regretted his actions. He begged the community to give him any punishment they thought fit, if only ultimately they would accept him back as one of themselves. I found it hard to believe such a change. How could a man plan such a huge step, for so long, and then do such a volt face [about face -ed]? Dieter was given six months 'solitary'. He lived in a hut in the wood and saw only the Brother who brought him his food. After six months, he was forgiven, returned to his family and the community, where he was put in charge of the chickens.
One of the members came from a rich Swiss family, and his parents, back in Switzerland offered the community a very large sum of money to pay off the mortgage. A meeting was held to discuss this. The Brothers wanted to consider just how they could get hold of the money without in fact using it to pay off the mortgage. The member stood up -- I felt he had courage -- and said he felt his parents would not wish to give the money unless it was to be used as specified. "And who," came the withering reply, "have we to consider, YOUR parents or our OWN Brothers and Sisters?"
News came. Incredible, unbelievable news! Harry was in Buenos Aires. I was allowed to go to the community's town house in Asuncion to meet him. He travelled by train from Buenos Aires, a three day journey in a train with some twenty carriages and two engines. There was a barge crossing over the Paraná, rows of carriages three abreast, and finally Harry was in Paraguay. He had written to me "after so many years we must feel our way, go slowly..." I did not feel like this. I was absolutely sure of my feelings, and as it turned out I was right. Standing on the platform, tense with excitement and anticipation, I could hardly believe the longed-for event was really going to happen. The train drew in and there was that sweet familiar face. Clinging to each other, utterly oblivious of everyone, around us there was no question of "going slowly."
The little community group in Asuncion prepared a welcome feast. We had five days there altogether, I was fully occupied with domestic work and Harry was busy with official documents, so we did not have much time together -- but it didn't matter. We felt very close to one another and the future -- together -- stretched out before us. We took the river steamer up to Rosario, the nearest port to Isla Margarita where the community lived.
We were put off the boat on to the river banks at 2 AM together with Harry's trunks, and the boat steamed away into the night. It was pitch dark but, by the light of the boat before it left, we had seen a flight of wooden steps leading up to the top of the river bank. We heaved the boxes up, made a sort of enclosure with them and settled for the night. The ground was hard, but it wasn't cold. With the first light of day, we looked down on the river and saw to our surprise two large alligators on the lower level. Moving to higher ground had been wiser than we knew! Soon we were greeted by one at the Brothers who had come to meet us with an ox-cart in which we bumped our way along a rutted track to a house and breakfast.
We set off for the 'hof, stopping on the way for a meal with a friendly family. We spoke German as Harry and I had little knowledge of Spanish, though in fact this family was not German either. We were later to discover that in the capital German was as useful as Spanish due to the large number of Germans in Paraguay who had fled from the Nazi terror.
We drove on all night, sleeping fitfully on the boxes. Driving at night was considered dangerous because of the jaguars. Usually several wagons would drive together and, when stopping for the night, they would make a protective circle round the people and horses.
On arrival at the 'hof, we were very warmly welcomed and took up the new life together. Harry came to work alongside us in the brickworks, and he planned to build a second kiln, a clamp kiln nearer the 'hof. He suffered endless discomfort from the food; it seemed his stomach really couldn't take it. Much more important, however, was his growing concern with my attitude. I was in heaven, just being with him, and I didn't worry about the future, as he did. When he questioned me about community affairs and beliefs, the answers he got, or so it seemed to him, did not come from my heart, they were the 'party line', and weren't even phrased in my own words. I knew it all, the 'correct' answers to every question. Harry felt he was not getting through to me; there was a wall between us; we spoke different languages. It seemed as though I had stifled my critical faculties for so long that they had atrophied. I no longer knew that my opinions were not mine, but planted.
Harry resented my going so often to Gemeindestunde, and resented my reluctance to divulge what were regarded as private Bruderhof affairs, such as misdeeds of people and punishments. I seemed unable to convince Harry, because he saw at once that I answered parrot-wise. His endeavours to read my OWN thoughts and feelings I continually frustrated (unconsciously) because I did not even know them anymore myself, and I think I was partly afraid to find them out.
This distance between us led to many quarrels and tears and some considerable tension. I confessed to the community that I was finding things difficult and asked for help in "explaining" Bruderhof practices and beliefs. A meeting was staged for Harry in which after a perfectly dead reading, Harry was invited to unburden his soul. According to custom we were sitting on opposite sides of the room. He declined, firmly but politely; one or two people made pious remarks and the meeting closed, a bad flop. Harry asked me what I had thought of it and the reading; I could only say "awful."
At one of these Gemeindestunden, after an exhausting day making bricks, l was kneeling down at devotions when I felt an excruciating pain in my stomach. I could hardly get up for the cramps. One of the women confirmed a little later that I had miscarried.
The more Harry saw of the community the less he liked it and the more he felt it had changed from what we had seen together in England. He felt it had grown more intolerant, narrower, more Calvinistic. He decided to lie low, say as little as possible and concentrate on bringing me back to life.
For some time the community suspected nothing. They assumed that I was loyal and that in due course we would both become full members. Finally after several weeks, Harry said something in the presence of one of the men which made them realise he had doubts about the rightness of the Life. The heavens fell.
I was immediately questioned. Was I prepared to swear that, whatever Harry did, I would never be disloyal, would never leave the community? Faced with this I balked. To renounce Harry when after three long years of heartache we were at long last reunited? "No," I said. "I can't do that. He has not said he won't stay, and if he does, then I will decide."
It was not enough and the whole weight of the community was brought to bear. Night after night I had to face them, without Harry's support. He was not allowed to be there, because he was not a member. Three hundred people, many of whom I had regarded as close friends, were now my accusers. One after another they got up and called me proud, conceited. They accused me of putting Harry before the community, which they said was blasphemy. As the community were the only people in the world living as God would have everyone live, to leave was tantamount to putting Harry before God... a modern Judas Iscariot.
I returned after these meetings to Harry and wept. I felt utterly trapped. How could I ever get away? ...and if Harry left? I was told to go and meditate on my sins in solitude. The tension was terrible. I felt something in me would break. Was this what happened to people who had breakdowns? Or went mad?
After one of these meetings, three Brothers separately expressed their sympathy with me but by the next day they had been 'spoken to'. That evening's meeting began by these three Brothers publicly standing and apologizing to me. They said they had since realised how unhelpful human sympathy is and how it leads to softness and self-pity and how the only help is to get nearer to God and to receive His help. They sincerely hoped their mistaken human words would not hinder me and they apologized for their behaviour the night before. It was obvious this meeting had been planned -- in fact my one real friend tipped me the wink about it that afternoon. Look out," she said, "they are going to lay into you. They think you are wobbly, you had better confess it, otherwise they will make it worse for you. Don't attempt to defend yourself, even if they say untrue things -- it doesn't pay, they'll only take it out on you. I know, it happened to me." Maybe it had been the only way for her once, but she was single; I had Harry, it was not just a case of sacrificing my own ego, it was a case of sacrificing Harry as well
After the apologies they proceeded with a list of 'accusations'. All kinds of remarks I had made in the past two years were brought up and used against me. For instance, I had said I was glad I did not have to work in the laundry, thus indicating a lack of willingness to serve wherever the need arose, indicating extreme self-love and selfishness. Then I had been known to let my koptuch slide off my head and to have stayed bareheaded for a while, indicating a lack of suitable submissiveness and humility (worse, a fifteen year old boy had NOTICED.) I tried to listen objectively to what they were saying and once I exclaimed "That's not true" and got the retort "you defend yourself too quickly, you are full of conceit."
One evening after one of these meetings, I fled down to Harry who was sitting up fixing a kiln on his own and told him all that had happened. This was the beginning of my conscious turning from the community to Harry. I felt they'd treated me as an outsider rather than as one of themselves, that they'd not been fair -- and I turned to Harry for sympathy instead of to them. The following days, though not quite in disgrace I was obviously a borderline case.
Hans-Hermann told me he had never been able to understand my not having been baptised before. "Humanly of course it's understandable that you wanted to wait for Harry", he said, "but I never understood it otherwise." He meant of course that there was only human weakness to justify it. Hans Boller spoke to me about my position -- it was grave he said. I was standing before a choice between life and death; did I realise the truth of all that had been said the previous night?
Gwyn and Hans Boller came to our room to talk with us both. Gwyn asked Harry if he realised I'd given my word to stay at the Bruderhof for life? Harry turned to me and said "Is that so?" I didn't consider it was, but before I could reply Gwyn said, "Well, put it this way; are you prepared for May to do what she thinks to be right?" Harry said "Of course, of course." Harry was by this time convinced the Bruderhof was not for him. He was playing the game of weaning me from it before coming out in the open with his views. Such a method was necessary because had they known of his feelings they would undoubtedly have separated us as far as possible. Harry might have been asked to leave and my choice forced on me at once, before Harry had got me further under his influence.
Another trio, Hans Meier, Gwyn and Georg, came again to our room. We did not want them especially but they came in, sat down and proceeded to try and get Harry to state his views on the community. Harry finally said, quite quietly, "Well quite frankly, I do not wish to discuss things now." They said Harry had been there long enough, they had given him time enough, and we should be quite open with one another. Harry again said the time was not right, but would talk later. They said he was "cheeky". He said he was sorry, he did not mean it that way, and promised to discuss things later. Gwyn said that "in the world" it was rude to treat one's guests in such a high-handed manner. Harry apologized again and they left.
I decided it might be best if I said openly that I was torn between Harry and the Bruderhof, that Harry was not inclined to stay and that I could not find the conviction to pledge myself to stay if he went. I told Gwyn that I was frankly in trouble, almost despair, and asked for help. He was shocked, and told me that now at last I could see my true nature and know that I was in fact no better than a common harlot. Needless to say, this didn't help me, but only depressed me further. He asked if in leaving the community I would seek another. I said no. He then said "You see, you would be leaving just to be with Harry. You are putting Harry before God, you are betraying Christ, I shall go and tell Georg at once." I said that was what I had intended him to do. I had spoken to him in the hope of help and understanding. I had received righteous indignation.
I was then called to meet those same three again, alone. They fired questions at me. I tried to answer truthfully, with the result that they understood one thing, and I another, from their replies. "Do you wish to do what is right?" "Yes." "Do you wish to follow Christ?" "Yes." From this they assumed I meant to stand loyally in the community, come what may. I actually meant that I would try and do what I believed to be right, but by then I could no longer identify that only with living in the Bruderhof.
They put many other such questions, squeezing from me admissions which they misinterpreted. Finally they said they were glad I had seen my fault, that I had turned again to Christ, and warned me that this must be the last time I changed my loyalties. I had been wobbly, swayed by my emotions, but they were glad I was once more firm and I had better declare this new faith before the whole community that fight.
I left them in real despair, feeling hopelessly caught, that my words had been twisted, that I was in their power and could never escape. Somehow they would always manage to keep me in the Bruderhof. I knew Harry was, by then, quite against it and I felt my whole world was shattered. Harry would leave me and they would hold me. They would always talk me into saying I would do what I believed to be right and then take that to mean I would always stay in the community. I felt I could never stand against the whole mass of them, accusing me, shouting "sinner", and generally talking me round in circles.
I went out into a field and cried and cried until I felt ill and sick. I couldn't stop. I have never felt such utter despair and misery. How could I defy so many "good' people, people who kept on telling me that what they were doing was done "out of love" for me, out of real concern for my soul?
Harry found me there. He comforted me, holding me closely until my sobs subsided enough for me to blurt out "I can't leave them... I can't." It was then that he swore that come what may, even if I failed to find the strength to leave the community, he would never leave me. He said nothing against them and didn't take advantage of the moment to press his own case in any way -- as he might well have done -- and as they would undoubtedly have done in his shoes. He just promised not to leave me. It was like a sudden parting of the clouds, a brilliant ray of light, for I saw, absolutely clearly that THIS was love, not what they had called love. Harry was offering, in practical terms, his life, his ambitions, everything; a sacrifice so enormous, it was breathtaking. This was true love, and this was where my loyalty lay, not with them. I was suddenly free, totally free of their power. "Listen" Harry said, "from now on I will never leave you; you need never face them alone again; we will take what comes together."
That evening I was supposed to make a statement of my new- found conviction. I still had to face them alone; Harry was refused attendance, but I faced them honestly. I said that Gwyn and Georg had misinterpreted my answers and that rightly or wrongly I just could not swear to stay forever if Harry left. I said I was sorry for any proud attitude I may have shown and for not being clearer before. I repeated that I believed in community, based on practical conversion with a religious basis, that I did not wish to leave. BUT, to swear to stay for ever alone if necessary, well, I just could not do it. I said I still hoped that Harry might stay, but if he didn't -- well that day would show and I could make no prophecies.
This brought down a shower of disapproval and was called 'changing my mind again'. They tried every means to get me to give my word, to stay, come what may. Phyllis Rabbits called upon me to repent now rather than to have to repent before God on the Last Day. I was re-accused of pride, self-love, loving Harry more than God and of lying to Georg and Gwyn. Georg said "I think it would be best if May stood up and faced us openly." I did not move. Gwyn then added pompously, "I do not see how we can proceed with this meeting until May has done as Georg asked." At this point all endeavor to be fair, to be honest with them, to speak the truth left me. It was at this point that the last tie binding me to the community snapped. Their hardness, lovelessness and selfrighteousness in the face of what I felt to be a genuine attempt to state my position, to acknowledge my failure or lack of conviction, was too much. I lacked sufficient conviction to be willing to renounce Harry. I could call that a weakness; they called it a Sin. The actual crisis of Harry actually leaving had not yet even arisen; it was only a possible future event. I expected sympathy, love and help in my trouble. They felt it was their duty to bring me back to the narrow way and their only idea of how to do this was to try and make me feel like scum to dream of going any other way. I stood up as ordered, but my one thought was to say as little as possible, get out and leave the place. I answered in monosyllables and let them believe that I was overcome with shame. Wilfred said "Can May now assure us that she is free from any sort of tie to Harry?" To this, Georg at least said "Oh, I think that is going a little too far; he is after all her husband." The meeting closed with the decision to give me the day off to ponder my sins preparatory to making a statement the following evening. Gwyn ran after me to say that as it was forbidden for women to wander at large around the 'hof, I had better spend the day in the patch of ground below, and in view of, the laundry. :
I went to Harry and said we must leave NOW. I wanted to walk out into the night, without any money or clothes, miles from anywhere. I seemed not to recall that you just couldn't do that, that no one went even a relatively short distance on foot at night. I felt my life and my sanity were at stake. Harry made me see it would be braver to face them again and say I was going, and said he would be with me.
The next day he asked for permission to make a statement They agreed, doubtless thinking we were going to eat humble pie together. That night we both read statements which were heard in silence. I said I did not wish to leave the community, but that if Harry left, I did not know what I would do, but would decide when that event arose. I said I was grateful for much, sorry for much, and could only say that I realised I had never had complete conviction. Harry stood and said he did not think he would ever wish to join, but he had come a long way and was more than willing to give them a hand with their brick and tile making.
There was a pause, then one of the elders got up: "There is nothing more to be said except will you both please keep to your room and speak to no one till we can arrange for your departure," and with that they rose as a body and, turning their backs on us, left the hall. It was the end, a total break, we were no longer acceptable.
Harry brought me my meals. The next morning some people offered Harry a "good morning" and others looked straight through him. This 'appalling disunity' was soon rectified and he was 'cut' consistently. It was a couple of days before a wagon was available going to the river boat and to the 'real' world. I had only the community official dress, the long skirt, so I occupied myself making a skirt by unpicking a pair of Harry's grey flannel trousers, cutting off the bottoms of the legs and using the pieces to make triangles, back and front, to join the legs together as a skirt. Harry asked for a loan of money to get to Asuncion and keep us for a week. This was granted, but for this the community had the nerve to make him sign an IOU.
We left less than 48 hours after the meeting. The last word came from Hans Meier, who came to our room with some papers and said "Do not write to us please or try to have any contact with us." 'Oh," said Harry, "You do not wish to be friendly any more now we disagree?
"You must realise that while your present attitude persists we are enemies; we still love you of course, but you would not have us pretend a friendship which is not there, would you?" Meier replied. Finally he said, "You will not find community, you will not even find common unity with your wife."
This was the last conversation we had. We left with little else than what we stood up in; my violin, a few small personal possessions and enough borrowed money to live on for a week My money, and even Harry's had been given to community. Harry's they had connived, against my wishes, to get out of his Buenos Aires account before he had even reached Latin America. Indeed, finding on arrival that he had no money after all, he had had to borrow to reach Asuncion where I met him.
The relief of leaving was enormous. No one said good-bye to us. Our departing wagon passed another full of Bruderhofers going the other way; they all sat silently and looked down their noses.
We travelled to Asuncion in the company of an American lady who had been visiting the community. She had been buttered up, and was shattered to hear our account of what had been going on behind the scenes. "But I heard nothing of all this," she said. Of course not. "You must come with me to my hotel, my husband will do what he can." So we ate real butter for the first time for years, and bread too and her husband departed to find Harry a job. Sure enough, before the day was over he had a choice of two. Moreover, his wife had located Tom and Nita Ridley who had left the community about a year earlier. We knew they would take us in as they had been through the same mill.
Penniless we may have been, and facing a new job, in a new country with a new language to learn, but it was perhaps one of the happiest times of our lives. We had escaped, we were together, more than ready for whatever lay ahead.
When we met members of the community in Asuncion, as we occasionally did, they crossed the street to keep out of our way. It seemed we could have starved on the streets for all they cared.
One of the sad consequences of my departure from the Bruderhof related to my younger sister Olive. Back at the time when I left England, Olive came to the community to say good-bye. She stayed, and finally joined them and married a long-standing member.
I wrote to Mimpky that I felt much better and wiser for those years in the Bruderhof, and my greatest regret is not that Olive is there, but that their convictions about my wickedness are such that she will be unable to correspond, or speak to me without incurring the gravest reprimand.
I was right. One of the first things I did was to write to Olive, to tell her what had happened, and to express the hope that we could still maintain a sisterly relationship. She returned the letter unopened. This hurt, but there was nothing I could do except to hope that time would heal where I could not.
Many many years later there was a big change in the attitude of the group; they became less censorious and narrow. Indeed, thirty years later, when we had moved to New Zealand I was astonished to receive letters from two of the Brothers who had been particularly zealous in getting me to "see the light". They wrote apologising for the way they had treated me, and asked forgiveness. I was touched and remembered them very clearly. I wrote at once saying -- perhaps haughtily -- that I had forgiven them many years ago and I sincerely hoped they had not been burdened with a bad conscience for thirty years.
It was about this time too that I had the chance to visit Olive in Pennsylvania in the U.S. on my way between New Zealand and Europe. She was then and still is a member of the Bruderhof Community. It was lovely to see her again but there was no great emotional greeting. Our lives had been so different since we had said good-bye in 1941. Talk about our children provided the common ground and we have corresponded about family news since then. On that trip I met many of those who had lived and worked with me in Paraguay. There were no feelings of animosity and we met as old acquaintances. I was glad that I went.
I was never bitter about my experiences in the Community. They did what they thought was right. No one can do more than that. It was all a valuable life-enhancing experience and we shared it. Harry and I made another bond between us.
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Ten Days at the German Community of ZEGG
by Art Rosenblum, 4/4/95.
A community where everyone was completely free to make love with everyone? That was my fantasy when I lived in the Woodcrest Bruderhof, a Christian community in New York State. I felt so guilty that I confessed my sinful desire to the group's leader. He gently told me that "Free love is neither loving nor free and extramarital sex destroys one's spirituality". I believed then that Christianity demanded monogamy, not realizing that monogamy arises from private property, which Jesus opposed.
Now, I have spent ten days in a community in Germany where my fantasy of free love was more than fulfilled. Yet, it's far more spiritual than the Bruderhof, so I know that Bruderhof brother was mistaken. His beliefs came from the morality of the 1920's (when the Bruderhof started). At that time they surely experienced that sexual relationships outside marriage were very destructive to the community. But they were unaware of the reason. In the 1920's, people were super-secretive about all such relationships. That secrecy, not the sharing of love, is surely destructive of community.
"Free love. Anything else is a misunderstanding." That's a motto of the German community of ZEGG.
ZEGG (Center for Experimental Cultural Design) is creating a society free of violence, fear, and sexual repression, and is paving the way for a future based on love for our entire planet. Life there is up- beat, loving and honest with relationships based on transparency rather than secrecy. People dare to speak openly about sexuality and love relationships and no one is shy about having a human body. Visiting ZEGG is a very personal experience, so that's how I will have to write about it.
Judy and I, together for 18 years, have never cheated. We are free, by agreement, to share love responsibly with others, but only when our partner is happy about that particular relationship. From what we knew about ZEGG as a responsible free love community, we decided I could do what the others were doing.
I arrived at supper time. Heike met me and took me to my room and then to supper. I had come to attend a conference on "Modeling the Community of the Future". I came three days early to relearn the German I had not spoken for 35 years. Each morning at 8:20 beautiful classical waltzes were played from speakers placed around the community. People gathered in a large round area. When we got there, a few couples were dancing to the music as others formed an arc. As the music ceased we were silent. A brother then described a journey to war-torn areas. He expressed his gratitude to be in this community ruled by the spirit of love alone. He ended with "Danke and amen" which was repeated by all and the prayer meeting was over, perhaps ten minutes altogether. I learned it was led by a different person each day, rain or shine.
I was free to do whatever I liked, so I asked for work. I joined in preparing a new sleeping area for seventy people in the attic of ZEGG University. I was able to speak German, though many also spoke English when need be. The work was well-planned and harmonious, but a joke we had thought hilarious at home was not well-received. I came to understand how insensitive I had grown to jokes demeaning women, and was told they were not interested in my stories but in my heart. There was no need for the superficiality to which we have become so accustomed. We talked about our reasons for being at ZEGG and grew much closer on a deeper level.
The same night I arrived, there was a Spring Festival with intimate dancing, something about which I always have been shy . Suddenly I was enjoying it. I realized that I feared dancing as a teenager because I knew nothing about sex and was afraid I might touch a girl in a wrong way. At ZEGG that fear evaporated, and I was able to really enjoy dancing together for the first time.
I have to admit that I had fantasies about a free love community that were not realized. Others seemed to be relating and I was left out. There was no clear formula for developing relationships, but I was not shunned. Folks were loving and open. Frequent dancing was a new way to relate and I felt totally accepted, although women could refuse a dance. Gradually I became aware of my own fear, my own blockages and that these were what prevented greater intimacy. My own self-concern was what made me unattractive to others, and I had to let go completely for something new to happen. By the end of my stay I was feeling so much freer, that I knew it was only a matter of time before I could open my heart to others and relate with them totally.
Music is important at ZEGG. They have orchestral music and choir singing at almost every meeting, but I missed all the wonderful German and English folk songs of my B'hof days. I tried hard to connect ZEGG with the Bruderhof in Germany, but they were busy moving out of the country.
ZEGG has no formal membership. People come for conferences or courses on community and make friends. Then it's possible to stay on if you can contribute about $750/month for room and board, and are in harmony with the community's goals. If you have no means to earn money, they will help you arrange for work. Would they want me there? Not really. They felt that with all my contacts I would be far more effective in America. I couldn't do anything in Germany that they couldn't do as well. However, they want me to come for Summer Camp or bring folks from the U.S. communal movement interested in starting similar groups in America. That is indeed my intention.
What else goes on at ZEGG? ZEGG University is known for the study of new sciences and alternate lifestyles. Three or four physicists work with nature instead of against it and had invented a more efficient and totally silent pump for air or liquid. ZEGG folks live in the U.S., and the Canary Islands, and they just bought buildings with 300 acres in Portugal ten miles from the ocean to set up a more primitive, even freer community called: "Healing Biotope 1." Many I met at ZEGG were keen to be part of that new project which sounded even more organized for healthy sexuality than they are able to be in Germany. ZEGG also has a new 80-foot sailing ship called Kairos based in the Canary Islands. It has a crew of 5 and room for 22 more. The Kairos is a research ship studying human/dolphin communication while also teaching people to share honest love relationships. They've done some beautiful films of freedom and love amongst both humans and dolphins and I was able to copy their slides and video.
Sixteen children live at ZEGG, the oldest fourteen. The children form their own community with private rooms and group sleeping rooms also. Most attend public school where they are well-liked. If there is a disagreement they all get together and settle it. One adult oversees the kids' house.
Creativity is typical of the lovers at ZEGG. After a surprise announcement that they just pulled together $300,000 to pay off the land in Portugal (total cost about $600,000), we had a dance to raise additional funds for further projects. In about an hour, some $40,000 was pledged. I found it thrilling to see how love moves forward, but on leaving I had a suggestion for further fund-raising. Close to Portugal are the Mondragon Cooperatives, a movement with its own bank to finance new ventures. I suggested that ZEGG might link up with them and do likewise, perhaps even establish their own insurance company.
Having now experienced my fantasy in total reality I know that we can live together in harmony, freedom and love. All of us have to make changes to do that. We can start here in Philadelphia in a city house as some other ZEGG folks also do in Germany. There is a very urgent need to build a worldwide communal movement right now. Did you know that in just five years we will have two billion, yes, 2,000,000,000 youth between 10 and 21 on this planet? They cannot possibly have a secure future in present systems already plagued by unemployment.
In short: "To change yourself and the world, always and in everything, visualize, then expect the very best, but be prepared to take what you get. The best might come afterwards."
ZEGG folks also publish a magazine and do experiential workshops in the U.S. You can ask for free sample literature by calling the Network for a New Culture at 1-800-624-8445. We're looking for competent people who want to work with us to create ZEGG-inspired communities here and now.
Are there any readers of KIT who are still committed to communal living but reject the hierarchy and sexual repression of the bruderhof ?
If so, perhaps the best thing would be to stop condemning the Bruderhof whose members are, I believe, doing their very best as they understand Christianity. Instead we could start our own community nearby, perhaps in or near Woodstock, and call it the Woodstock Bruderhof. That would be within 20 miles of Woodcrest. Woodstock Bruderhof could be patterned after the best we have seen on the Bruderhof and the lessons of freedom and love we can learn from the people at ZEGG. I think such a communal start, a truly Christian community based on love and responsibility for one another and for Gaia, would be the best answer to the mistakes of the past. If interested, let me know at Aquarian Research in Philadelphia, call (215) 849- 3237 or 1 800 641-6545. If you leave a message I can call you back after 5 p.m.
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By popular demand, reprints of John'Stewart's An Autobiographical Narrative (published in the April KIT '95) are available from us for $2 domestic/$4 foreign postpaid.
Also, Dr. Margaret Singer's and Janja Lalich's book Cults In Our Midst, The Hidden Menace In Our Everyday Lives, has just been published and looks like an excellent resource. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco. Hardcover: $25. We will review it in the June KIT.
Start saving up for a wonderful adventure. The EuroKIT Conference Deutschland in the summer after this coming one. It will be held in the 'village of art,' Warpswede, close to Bremen, Friday, July 26th until Monday, July 29th. You MUST register by October 31st, 1995 per day:
One person, including 3 meals: DM 35.20
Group price per person: DM 31.20
A bus charter from the U.K. is being talked about.
More details will follow in later issues of KIT, but this very worthwhile event is a 'must' to attend. Come on, be adventuresome! You only live once! And money? It's only paper with pictures of dead politicians on it.
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