Plough My Account Sign Out
My Account
    View Cart

    Subtotal: $


    By Faith or Finance

    Two years into its communal venture, the Bruderhof was out of cash. Could a community live by faith in financial matters? Would anyone stay?

    By Emmy Arnold

    July 27, 2022

    This excerpt is taken from A Joyful Pilgrimage, Emmy Arnold’s memoir of the founding of the Bruderhof. The chapter entitled “Crisis” details a conflict that emerged in the face of seemingly insurmountable financial obstacles just two years into the communal venture. After this painful but formative crisis, only a handful of the community persevered, determined to live by faith.

    In the search for a new life, which was once so full of promise, a different influence began to make itself heard, also in print. It came especially from the ministers of various churches. Their motto was: “Let the people with the new vision return to the old ways of life, and let their light shine there.” Through this the impetus of the movement came to a halt for many young people.

    Our whole family, including Else, had been invited to spend July 1922 in Bilthoven, and the community decided that we should accept; Eberhard and I were rather run down after the first two years in Sannerz, and the children’s health was not much better as a result of postwar malnutrition. There had been increasing unrest in the community over the previous months, but we agreed to the trip and put our hope in the good spirit to overcome all difficulties and differences. We also trusted those who had fought and suffered through so much with us. Surely they still had faith in the future kingdom, which we did not think was far away! This vision lived in us.

    In Holland we were welcomed warmly and looked after with great love. There was a lively, anti‑militaristic spirit among the people in Kees and Betty Boeke’s group, and every Saturday as many of them as possible marched in front of the town hall in Amsterdam, singing Kees’s song, “No, no, we have done with fighting,” in various languages.

    On August 2, 1922, the eighth anniversary of the outbreak of the war, a big crowd of war resisters from Bilthoven and other places marched through Amsterdam with stuffed horses and peace flags with the inscription, “No More War.” We also took part, of course, singing, “Long, long enough have Christian men borne arms against their brother,” and other songs by Kees Boeke, all in Dutch. As the military columns marched past the Brotherhood House in Bilthoven, everyone opened the windows and shouted, Nooit meer oorlog! “No more war!”

    Kees and Betty had a similar attitude with regard to money: they wouldn’t even touch it. When they crossed a toll bridge, they gave eggs or something else. Neither did they believe in paying taxes, or obeying police officers, and they were put in prison many times because of this. One time Kees just lay flat on the ground and had to be bodily carried off. Their furniture and other possessions went up for auction over and over again, but each time their friends and wealthy relatives refurnished their home. And so the cycle repeated itself.

    In other respects, too, the Bilthoven group was very radical. Every guest or helper could take part in their meetings, and every voice carried equal weight. As Kees expressed it, every person carries a light within, and the good spirit can move and speak through him. In this sense, everyone was allowed to voice his or her opinion on any practical question that arose. We took part in such meetings on a number of occasions, and they seemed rather chaotic to us. What we missed (and we expressed this) was the atmosphere of Christ, in whose spirit freedom is joined with reverence for a greater uniting power. In any case, Kees and Betty impressed us: they were an honest and forthright couple – people who put their convictions into action – and there was much we could learn from them.

    While we were in Holland, letters came from home about the situation there, which sounded more and more disquieting. For one thing, financial worries had increased; inflation was soaring, loans (some from friends, and one from a bank) were being recalled, and we were suddenly faced with debts we had thought we had months to repay. Then Eberhard was asked to return home. In actual fact, as it was impossible to raise money in Germany, we felt it was providential that we were in Holland, and were confident that what was needed would be given to us there. Eberhard wrote home to say that he would be back before payment was due; that is, in two weeks if not sooner.

    Behind Sannerz House posing with new cow: Eberhard & Emmy Arnold, Emy-Margret and others.

    The Arnold family and others behind the Sannerz House Bruderhof Historical Archives

    In spite of this, the unrest at home, as conveyed to us in letters from Sannerz, grew even greater. I was ready to travel with the children if need be, but Eberhard wanted to stay: during a long walk across the heath, he had received the inner certainty that he should not allow himself to be shaken out of his inner calm, but should complete his tasks in Holland as previously agreed, and be home by the time the payment on the bank loan was due. When we discussed the situation with Else, we came to the same conclusion. We felt a strong inner assurance that God would show us the way, if only we let him. Here I want to share lines from a letter Eberhard wrote to my sister Monika, just in those days:

    Take courage! We must no longer see what is small! The great must take hold of us in such a way that it also penetrates and transforms the small. I have courage and joy for our life again in the certainty, of course, that it will cost a great and glorious struggle. The Spirit will conquer the flesh! The Spirit is the stronger! He overwhelms me, you, one after the other. This Spirit is goodness, independence, and mobility.

    Our life will not become narrower, but broader; not more limited, but more boundless; not more regulated, but more abundant; not more pedantic, but more bounteous; not more sober, but more enthusiastic; not more faint‑hearted, but more daring; not worse and more human, but filled with God and ever better; not sadder, but happier; not more incapable, but more creative. All this is Jesus and his spirit of freedom! He is coming to us. Therefore let us not grieve about anything, but forgive everyone, just as we must be forgiven everything, and go into the future radiant with joy. Stay and wait until you are clothed with power from on high.

    Soon the letters from home began speaking of our “gross lack of responsibility;” we even found out that those who had stayed at Sannerz asked the Brotherhood House in Bilthoven to send whatever money they wanted to give us directly to their address, rather than give it to us. (The Boekes did not heed this advice.)

    Our departure from Holland came quickly. On our last evening a lady handed us an envelope containing Dutch guilders. When Eberhard went to the bank in the morning, he received in German currency the exact amount owed by our publishing house to the bank on that very date. For once the inflation had worked to our advantage! Eberhard called home to share the good news, but was met with the reply, “It is too late; the publishing house is already being liquidated!”

    After this we traveled home, spending a night in Frankfurt and arriving at Sannerz the next day. Suse, Moni, and Trudi met us at the station in Schlüchtern. Suse looked petrified and said only that she was not to tell us anything. At home we had an icy reception and watery soup. A small cake had been baked for the children, however.

    “What separates Eberhard Arnold from the rest of us is his conviction that faith must determine all relationships, including financial ones.”

    After dinner we were invited to a meeting; everyone sat in a circle on the floor of the dining room, the largest room in the house. The windows were wide open, and sitting on the sills, or looking in from outside, were students and others from a conference that was meeting in Schlüchtern that same day. (Eberhard had been scheduled to give the opening address, and several of the participants had come over, wanting to see something of Sannerz.)

    Inside the room, a struggle erupted and raged as the conflict that had been slowly brewing over the previous months finally came to a head. On the one side were those of us who felt we must leave the old ways for once and for all if we were going to build up something truly new; on the other were those who advised us to give up our “idealism.” It was said that faith and economic matters didn’t belong together, whereas we felt that faith must penetrate and direct everything, including financial matters. Max Wolf had put it best in a publishing house meeting just days before: “What separates Eberhard Arnold from the rest of us is his conviction that faith must determine all relationships, including financial ones.”

    Finally, it was said that our “open door” was nothing but a great lie – that we had held meetings of both an inner and practical nature at which not everybody was present. It was true; we had sometimes gathered late in the day, when most people were already in bed, to discuss the various challenges and problems our numerous guests brought with them, and to try to find a way of moving ahead. But mostly we had met this way simply to gather inward strength for the next stretch of the way.

    It was not an easy meeting, to be sure. But the discussions that followed were even more difficult, and there was a palpable atmosphere of darkness and hostility in the room. When Eberhard stated that we were not willing to change the direction, but that we were ready to continue living with them in a modest, unassuming manner, if someone else would agree to take over the leadership, the upheaval knew no bounds. One after the other stood up and declared his intention to leave Sannerz. There must have been about forty in all. We could hardly comprehend all this, as we had gone through so much with many of them. What had happened during our absence of four weeks? It was inconceivable!

    At the end, when the person in charge of the meeting asked who still intended to stay, there were just seven, the smallest possible number to enable us to continue as a legally incorporated body. Had there been fewer, Sannerz would have been automatically dissolved, and the money for the mill, as well as all the inventory, would have been distributed among those who were currently living in the house.

    Sannerz: Adolf Braun with wagon team, 1925

    The Sannerz wagon team, Schimmel (cow) and Fuchs (horse) Bruderhof Historical Archives

    Our business manager at the time, a former bank clerk named Kurt Harder, was among those who wanted to leave. Apart from him, the executive council consisted of Heinrich Schultheis (who had also decided to go), Eberhard, and myself. Because no more than two signatures were required for the transaction of business, anything could be done without Eberhard and myself, and it was. Furniture, farm implements – even our cows and other animals – were sold off. We city folk were unable to look after them properly, it was said. Canning jars were bought so that those moving away could take along as much of the plentiful fruit and vegetables as possible. Firewood we had stacked up for winter was burned in the stoves with the windows wide open, though it was only early September. People even used the money earmarked for the mill to purchase overcoats, shirts, and other clothing items, and urged us to do the same. Their rage exceeded all bounds when we refused to accept a share of it. But the sum had been given for a common cause; Kees had never intended for it to be divided among individuals.

    Now accusations of fraud were hurled at us from all sides, and the situation became almost unbearable. Naturally those who had turned against the community could not leave until they found another livelihood elsewhere, and the days seemed to drag. The Schultheises, together with several others, looked into other possibilities for community living; after a while they found a suitable place in a former children’s home at Gelnhausen. But their community only survived for a few months, and no wonder – there was nothing to hold them together except their protest against our way.

    In the meantime our little group had taken on cooking for the whole household. I did most of it, but as I was not used to the thin, green soups we ate so often in those years, I tried to prepare more nourishing food, though in smaller amounts. The others thought we were trying to starve them. Eberhard immediately advised me to increase the quantities, which I did. It meant starting to cook again right after each meal, but what else could we do? More than ever we felt the importance of acting in accordance with the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – of going the second mile.

    Our situation – having no community but living together in the same house – became more and more intolerable as the days went by. Among those staying with us were several young women who had not come to us on account of any inward urge, but who simply needed a place to stay. One had been entrusted to our care by the welfare office; another had come to have her baby in a safe place. Both spread rumors around the house, which certainly did not make life any easier.

    Although there were very likable people among those planning to leave – people who had been deeply moved and inspired for community at one time – a spirit of hatred now came from them. How could we be so foolish, so stubbornly determined to continue on the way we had recognized, they wondered? But we had never considered Sannerz a mere experiment, as apparently they had, an experiment for which, they said, “our generation is too weak, too human, too selfish.” To us, it was a matter of a calling.

    original printing press

    Preparing the printing press Bruderhof Historical Archives

    Here I should mention the liquidation of the Neuwerk Publishing House. First the partners and shareholders met to officially wind up the publishing work, which, in their opinion, had not been run in a businesslike manner. Then the books were divided up: those leaving us planned to start an imprint of their own, and wanted to take the books most suitable for this, including Junge Saat, both Blumhardt volumes, our Georg Flemmig titles, and others, above all the magazine Das neue Werk. We were heartbroken. It was an act of kindness on the part of our old friend Otto Herpel, who died soon afterward, to leave the Zinzendorf volume with us. He said, “We respect Eberhard’s faith, even though we cannot share it.” Yes, even he was of the opinion that spiritual and temporal matters ought not to be mixed.

    At the end of the meeting a vote was taken to determine whether all agreed to proceed with the liquidation. It seemed there was a unanimous yes – until Eberhard stood up and said, “Unanimous with the exception of one voice! I am not in agreement. Please record this in the minutes!”

    Finally, in October, the last of our former household members left, and Sannerz was quiet.


    Now, after all the hardships and the disillusionment of the past months, after so many beloved friends who had originally shared our enthusiasm for a new way had left us, we could once again rebuild. And we were determined to do this, with every ounce of energy we had. It was not so, as some might think, that the “weaker” or “worse” ones had left, and the “better” or “stronger” ones remained. We did not feel that way at all. We were very much aware of our own failings and inadequacies for the task at hand. Yet in spite of our limitations we had to go on. Many years later, just two months before he died in November 1935, Eberhard said of this time:

    When the call first came to us, we felt that the spirit of Christ had charged us to live in full community, in communal solidarity, with an open door and a loving heart for all people. It was the word of Jesus Christ, the reality of his life and his spirit that gave us the strength to start out on this way and to keep going though our steps were small and feeble. We had traveled only a short distance on this way when times came upon us that put this power to the test, times of trial and hostility, when friends we had grown to love deeply suddenly reversed their position and became enemies because they had turned from freedom and unity and wanted to return to ordinary middle‑class life, to a “normal, private life” and their own pocketbook. Thus the movement was led into bondage again through the influence of capitalism and its professional and business life.

    Yet even though most of our friends left us and whole groups deserted the flag of unity and freedom, though well‑meaning people earnestly warned us that this way would lead to a lonely and ineffectual end, we were not dissuaded. With our own children and those we had adopted, we had to push through toward the goal.

    Contributed By EmmyArnold2 Emmy Arnold

    Emmy Arnold started the Bruderhof community movement with her husband, Eberhard Arnold, and her sister, Else von Hollander.

    Learn More
    You have ${x} free ${w} remaining. This is your last free article this month. We hope you've enjoyed your free articles. This article is reserved for subscribers.

      Already a subscriber? Sign in

    Try 3 months of unlimited access. Start your FREE TRIAL today. Cancel anytime.

    Start free trial now