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. : Joy Johnson MacDonald, Ben Cavanna, Leonard Pavitt, Joan Pavitt Taylor,
updated September 1, 1995
To Whom It May Concern:
For the past six years a group of ex- members and children-of-members of a high-demand, coercive Christian sect have been volunteering their time to produce a monthly newsletter called KIT ('Keep In Touch'). This sect has been known variously as the Bruderhof, Los Hermanos Hutterianos (in Paraguay in the 1940s-50s), The Society of Brothers (in the 1950s), The Hutterian Brethren (in the 1970s-80s) and as The Hutterian Brethren East (early 1990s). They now may have to change their name yet again because they have been excommunicated by all branches of The Hutterian Church and, most recently, separated from a final splinter Hutterite group in Manitoba, Canada.
Despite the Bruderhof's attempts to graft themselves upon the 450-year-old Hutterite root, they differ from the old-order Hutterites in a variety of important ways: they believe in the infallibility of the leading Elder, and that members must surrender not only all of their possessions, but also their consciences, minds and bedroom privacy to the leadership (which in our opinion makes them a totalitarian sect with serious cultic aspects). Bruderhof novices have to turn in all their material assets and, when they decide to leave or are kicked out, never have their property refunded (in direct opposition to what the term ‘novice’ means in Christian monastic orders — and to what the original Bruderhof by-laws state in which the novice can just loan his property.
The Bruderhof's punishing and repressive attitudes towards normal, early-childhood curiosity about body parts and sexuality sent so many young women to the local psychiatrists and mental institutions in the 1950s and 1960s (until the Bruderhof acquired a psychiatrist of their own) that rumor has it that in the Kingston, New York, area, the cluster of symptoms these women displayed came to be known as "The Society Syndrome" (see "File A" below on this page). Boys were beaten frequently, although recently we were assured by one housemother that they no longer hit children in the face. One Servant of the Word (minister) struck one boy so severely that twenty-five years later he still suffers from the physical aftereffects.
When John A. Hostetler, the noted Amish/Hutterite scholar, asked us for a list of known abusive incidents involving the Bruderhof, we were able to compile the enclosed tentative list without spending more than a few hours on the file listed on this page ("File B: List of Alleged Abusive Incidents"). Professor Hostetler has contributed an important critique of the Bruderhof (see "File C: Expelled Bruderhof Members Speak Out"). He arrived at the same conclusion as we have, and which is shared by many others including the Hutterian Church, that the Bruderhof community held enthralled by a destructive, totalitarian leadership that has found it advantageous to hide behind the name and dress code of the Hutterian Brethren
The Bruderhof operates two highly profitable businesses, Community Playthings (eductional play equipment) and Rifton Products (equipment for children with disabilities). Since their impoverished beginnings they have transformed themselves into a multi-million-dollar corporation with six communities in the eastern states (New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania) and one in England (the eight-year-old community in Germany has been closed). It would not impoverish them to meet the needs of their elderly ex-members (who were kicked out in the early 1960s basically with the clothes on their backs or to tithe into a fund that we have set up (The XRoads Fund) to assist both young and old. The first German Bruderhof was allowed a tax-exempt status in the 1930s because the members promised to care for their sick and elderly and not have them become a burden to the state. This is no longer true of the Bruderhof today, who place all their elderly on SSI (disability) although they do not pay into the Social Security system.
Another way that the Bruderhof differs from the old-order Hutterites is that they have no compunction about going to the"world courts" to promote their interests. Recently a now-schismatic branch of the Hutterites in Canada (with the advice and involvement of the Bruderhof) brought suit against one of their own members, who then appealed twice and won (a somewhat Pyrrhic victory) on the final appeal. We enclose information about it, because the dissenting justice in the final appeal seems to be encouraging the Hutterite appellant to sue again, this time for a monetary settlement instead of just the right to remain on the property (see "File D: F: Daniel Hofer Appeals Excerpts.")
In February, 1995, the Bruderhof brought a lawsuit against the Palmgrove Hutterian community in Nigeria, finally withdrawing it because of the public outcry both from neighboring Nigerian church groups and from the Hutterite leaders in the States.
Although the Bruderhof leadership freely admits that they do not adhere to democratic principles, and even state publicly that they view democracy as evil, they have taken advantage of United States’ tolerance for religious splinter groups to parasite on society-at-large and apply for whatever federal programs are available. Also they currently are appealing their tax assessments in Pennsylvania, claiming exemption as a charity. Two large tracts of land were paid for in cash. The Pennsylvania property sold for over $1 million, paid for, we are told, in ten and twenty-dollar bills, much to the puzzlement of seller.
Meanwhile, we have formed The Peregrine Foundation as the parent organization for our various projects. We have established a The Carrier Pigeon Press that is publishing a series of memoirs of ex-members, notably four women (we are titling the series 'Women from Utopia' and hope to broaden it out to include women survivors of other groups). The first book was written by the daughter of the son-in-law of the founder (the son-in-law, who had served as 'head minister' for twenty-seven years, was ejected in 1960, cut off from his wife and family, never allowed to return, and castigated in the Bruderhof's recent book, Torches Rekindled, as the devil himself!) His daughter draws a very different portrait of her father, and also of the years during which he ministered to the little flock in Paraguay and Europe (now 'the forgotten years' as far as the current Bruderhof is concerned).
We estimate that there are roughly 1000 ex- members, aspostates and 'sabra graduates' (children who have left) living outside the communities. Inside membership stands at about 2000. Inasmuch as access to birth control devices is rare and totally at the discretion of their Elder, families are large and they start a new community roughly every two or three years. In contrast, the Schmiede Leut Hutterites (the group with which the Bruderhof aligned itself for eighteen years) number about 125-150 colonies, with roughly 12,000 people total. Currently they are in a schism crisis triggered by their Elder's mismanagement (again with the Bruderhof's involvement) of the colonies' funds, with allegedly about $47 million are either missing or lost due to financial mismanagement. ("File E: Donald Gibb to John Stahl")
Three other articles give various views of the current conflict as well as a brief overview of my own Bruderhof history in the late 1950s. ("File F: Stress and Conflict in an International Religious Movement" by Timothy Miller. Ph.D., "File G: The Abuse of Charismatic Authority Within The Bruderhof" by Julius H., Rubin, Ph.D. and "File H: Heini Arnold and The Early Woodcrest Community")
What is it that we KITfolk want from the Bruderhof?
1) Guaranteed visiting privileges for outside family to their family members (currently the Bruderhof is cutting off anyone who even just reads the KIT newsletter from visiting family members inside the communities!)
One main reason they do not allow contact with outside people is because the leadership doesn't want the members to discover the truth of what is really going on. The average rank-and-file member never sees the KIT newsletter.
2) Repayment of the reparation moneys that Germany paid to German members because they were forced to leave by the Nazis. Miriam Arnold Holmes was told that in dollars the amount paid for her amounted to about $40,000 in the 1950s, but of course none of German members ever saw a penny.
3) The original Bruderhof community in Germany in the 1930s was allotted tax-free status because they promised to take care of their sick and elderly. We think they should be held to that promise today, and pay into a pension fund to help those ex-members who they have kicked out.
4) We believe that the articles of incorporation of the original (1939) English bruderhof as a charity guaranteed that departing ex-members would have their property returned at no interest.
5) Financial assistance for those ex-members or sabra graduates who were sexually, physically or emotionally abused, or who are now elderly with no savings or equity. Some of these are women living on welfare or on SSI, incapable of adjusting to the 'outside world.'
Numerous attempts have been made to open a dialogue with the Bruderhof leadership, both via individual letters and a group approach. A letter was sent to the Bruderhof from the 1991 Friendly Crossways Conference sponsored by the KIT group ("File I: Open Letter"). In 1992, an attempt was made to set up a weekend negotiation meeting. Two ministers from the Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston, Illinois, were invited by the KIT group to act as intermediaries. We assumed that since Reba Place, over the years, had enjoyed a close relationship with the Bruderhof (and undergone a leadership crisis and reappraisal of the sort that the Bruderhof could use that they were a non-threatening good choice. After all the preliminary plans were in place, guidelines published and the dates announced, the Bruderhof cancelled the weekend. At the August conference that year another list of concerns was compiled and mailed to the Bruderhof ("File J: Concerns and Suggestions).
Obviously a serious lack of communication is occurring, and the Bruderhof leadership is exhibiting a great deal of fear and paranoia over just the existence of the KIT support service. An example of this is the escalating incidence of harassment from the Bruderhof's young zealots. For example, an ex-minister's family, thrown out and told to 'go on welfare,' discovered in July, 1994, that his telephone had been 'bugged.' A police report was filed regarding this incident.
As of the summer of 1995, a second organization, named Children of The Bruderhof International (COBI) has been formed as a membership group with elected representatives. The 800 support line they set up was 'blitzed' by harassing phone calls, more than 1700 in the first month, 400 of them originating from one Bruderhof community alone. Labels offering 'sweet talk' and listing the 800 number began to appear on pay phones at various airports and elsewhere. COB's first press conference in Kingston, NY, the town closest to the Bruderhof's main community, resulted in some sympathetic articles in the local newspapers (see File K at top of the page -- COB Media Coverage)
Thanks for taking the time to review this material.
The Peregrine Foundation Staff
An excellent source for more information about the Bruderhof:
The Joyful Community, by Benjamin David Zablocki,
Penguin Books, Baltimore, Maryland, 1971;
reprinted by the University of Chicago Press, 1980.
We now also offer a spiral-bound reprint, courtesy
of the author (see our Carrier Pigeon Press page)
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