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    Community Is Born

    The Founding of the Bruderhof

    June 18, 2020
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    Emmy von Hollander (1885–1980) was born in Riga, Latvia, into a leading patrician German family. With the increased Russian influence on the Hanseatic city at the end of the nineteenth century, the family relocated to Germany. There she met Eberhard Arnold, who was pursuing his PhD in theology and was a sought-after evangelist in the revival that swept through much of the world at the turn of the century. They were married in December 1909.

    The following excerpt is adapted from Emmy’s memoirs, written in England after she escaped Nazi Germany in 1937 and completed in 1940 on board the Andalucia Star, the ship that was carrying her and her fellow Bruderhof members to refuge in South America during World War II.

    This excerpt is a preview of an article to appear in Plough Quarterly 25.

    After twenty years, I am starting once more to write down the history of our development in order to describe our calling to communal life, since I am the only one left who experienced the beginning. I am doing this for the sake of God’s grace and mercy, which worked so strongly among us in those first years. We humans were weak and sinful, but the grace of God was all the greater. And because this was so, we were all sinners on one bench, and together we experienced liberation again and again.

    By the time war broke out in 1914, the [evangelical] Fellowship Movement, which had gripped us particularly years until then, had slowly become worn. The religious words were still there for the most part, but the power to win souls hardly existed. The enthusiasm, the fervor, was gone. How could it be otherwise? War had broken out. Most people were participating in the war effort or worked for it indirectly. [Because he was suffering from tuberculosis, Eberhard was released from military service after two weeks.] In the bustle and agitation of the time, Eberhard began to write a book, The War: A Call to Inwardness. The reaction he got from a Dr. Niedermeyer, founder of a charity that sent books to soldiers on the front and to prison camps, summed up the general feeling of the time: “Herr Doktor, it is war! We don’t have time for inwardness.”

    We were still attending a fellowship which had joined a Darbyist group, and broke bread together every Sunday. At the same time we had a special connection with the German Student Chris­tian Movement, with its periodical Die Furche (“The Furrow”). Eberhard was co-publisher of this monthly and at the same time spiritual leader of the Furche publishing house. Although now and then we experienced lively meetings, discussions, and corre­spondence, especially with soldiers, the movement which had once been so alive and Christ-centered had become churchy and like a sect. It no longer expressed the source of our life. Through the deprivation of food, heating, etc., one could sense a certain indifference. Men of military age were happy if they didn’t need to fight and applied for exemption if at all possible. Everyone believed in Germany’s victory. There was no war in our own country – the German soldiers were in foreign lands.

    Dur­ing those years Eberhard offered pastoral care to wounded soldiers in Berlin’s mili­tary hospitals. He often came home depressed and told us of the horrible experiences of the soldiers who had been in the field. In the face of death their consciences were tormented by the murder and plunder they had taken part in. One soldier told Eberhard, under terrible anguish of conscience, how he hacked at a wounded soldier with a saber until the major came and snapped at him: “What disgusting things are you up to?” The soldier answered: “Hamburger, Major,” and the major stopped him. The soldiers confessed such and similar stories. So the question within us became clearer and clearer: Can anyone who calls himself a Christian be a soldier at all?

    Autumn 1918 approached. Everyone was certain that Germany would be victorious. The end came quickly: Abdication of the Kaiser … the American President Wilson’s fourteen conditions of armi­stice … and all of a sudden, revolution in Germany. Inconceiv­able. One morning huge trucks with red flags and soldiers drove through the streets. In rhythmic choir they sang the “Inter­nationale” and other revolutionary songs.

    We heard about Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who had moved into the Kaiser’s palace and raised the red flag. In Berlin’s busiest streets, policemen were playing dance tunes on a barrel organ and everyone was dancing. At the same time one could hear the rattle of machine guns. Badges were ripped from the officers’ uniforms. People demanded liber­ty, equality, and fraternity – the slogan of the Social Democrats. A new government was to be elected. Eberhard, Else, and I attended the event. After passionate speeches, the socialist [Friedrich] Ebert was acclaimed as the new president. Germany’s past was broken. Many mourned it and swore revenge.

    An atmosphere of death could be felt throughout our country.

    There was also great confusion among those who had been part of the revival movement. What position should they take? People didn’t want to hear religious words any more. “Enough words have been exchanged. Let us see some action!” The question: “Where was God in 1914?” was raised again and again. The pas­tors had preached for the war, had blessed the weapons, had prayed for Germany’s victory. Whose prayers should God an­swer? Germany’s, England’s, or France’s? An atmosphere of death could be felt throughout our country.

    a poster for a talk given by Eberhard Arnold

    A poster announcing a lecture given by Dr. Eberhard Arnold Used with permission.

    Then life broke through from a completely different direc­tion. Many began to reflect and seek the source of life. It was like a resurrection from death, like a new breath of spring. It swept through many circles – the question of the source of life, of human destiny, of life’s purpose. People wanted to become human – nothing more than human beings, brothers and sisters. They went out into nature to find God, to find themselves. They took big trips, roamed the woods, fields, and moors, with only knapsacks on their backs and simple clothing. The boys usually wore san­dals, shorts, Russian shirts, and a rope around the waist, the girls simple colorful dresses of coarse linen, with guitars and violins.

    Meanwhile in Berlin, through the breaking in of something new, we had begun to host open evenings. Stimulated people of vari­ous backgrounds met every week. There were former military officers and soldiers, proletarians and townspeople, people of the youth movement, older people, socialists, communists, and pietists. We had all met in order to seek the true purpose of life in this time when so many ideals were collapsing. We were given newly opened ears – not to speak, but to listen. At these evening meet­ings we searched for new ways to become truly human, to be­come brothers and sisters. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount spoke powerfully to us. We experienced it as though Christ himself was in our midst, speaking directly to us. All differences of posi­tion or rank disappeared. “What you want others to do to you, do for them.” “If someone asks you to go one mile, go two miles.” “If anyone takes your coat, give him your jacket as well.” “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you.” “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Anything more comes from evil.” “Do not collect treasures on earth.” These and other words of the Sermon on the Mount struck us to the heart and reshaped our whole life. How far we were from all of this! How could we put it into practice? Who could show us a new way?

    The Sermon on the Mount struck us to the heart and reshaped our whole life.

    We began to rearrange our way of life. Our family’s domestic staff moved into the best rooms in the house. Eberhard got up early, before going to the publishing house, to polish the shoes of everyone who lived in the house. One morning when he was unable to do this, the maids – who called us by our first names and addressed us with “Du” – were upset.

    Our neighbors were scandalized by our new, unusual lifestyle. They thought we were out of our minds and some felt sorry for us. Often in the evenings we took out our guitars and the room filled. Members of the youth movement, of the Salvation Army, and the proletariat came. Then we spoke and dreamed of a completely different life of true discipleship.

    At Pentecost 1919 a decisive student conference took place near Marburg. Eberhard, as student secretary of the Student Christian Movement and publisher of the Furche, was invited. From descriptions of different students and also from what Eberhard reported at home, those of us who re­mained at home were drawn into the movement. We sensed that Christ himself had spoken through his Spirit – yes, that Jesus himself had been present. Some reported that Christ had spoken through Eberhard and that they were deeply challenged to a completely new life.

    A conference in Tambach in Thuringia brought us together with the Swiss Religious Socialists. Karl Barth was the main speaker and Eberhard his co-speaker. At this conference Karl Barth represented that God is completely different from us humans: the totaliter aliter, totally other, God whom one can hardly approach. Too often we small human beings, com­parable to grains of sand, come before him too intimately with our small concerns, too much one-on-one before this inexpress­ibly great God. This aspect of Karl Barth’s witness relating to the eternal and the transcendental spoke very much to us. We recognized God’s greatness and our smallness perhaps more than ever. In Eberhard’s speech he emphasized that the “transcendent” can break into the “immanent,” that again and again in human history it has broken through. These questions were not discussed theoretically, but we were desperate to grasp the whole truth. No one who took part in these conferences was untouched. We were urged to search out the purpose of life and our attitude to it. The discussions were very lively. One well-known pastor from Leipzig said to us, “Tambach smells of fanaticism.”

    The Swiss religious socialists kept emphasizing the “totally other” God, who only rarely reveals himself to humans. When we asked, “What do you say when you’re standing in the pul­pit?” they answered, “We preach, but mostly without having been sent!”

    At the end of the conference, the chairman expressed thankfulness for all the inspiration and testimonies: “We will go home and meet again next year. Then we will see if the living God is still alive.” At this, the Swiss burst into loud laughter. When they were asked what was so funny, they answered, “It would be comical for such a small person to want to see whether the living God is still alive.” The testimony of the Swiss and also Eberhard’s testimony, that eter­nity has to change time, worked strongly among us. We stood before something unfathomable: God became man. Man becomes God’s.

    In winter 1919/1920 our open evenings were primarily con­cerned with how we could structure our life from the transcend­ent, from what is infinite. Francis of Assisi, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky were guideposts to us. Francis of Assisi – the poor wan­derer with his wonderful relationship to nature, his Canticle of the Sun, his sermon to the birds, his love to Lady Poverty. Tolstoy, who again and again attempted to forsake everything – and ultimately was unable to, his tragic end. Dostoyevsky showed us our common guilt in the need of humankind, who are stretched between heaven and hell. He showed us that we are all guilty of everything, that we ourselves are completely enmeshed in the web of guilt. We all felt the suffering and sin of the world – guilt of the war, of the class struggle, of the social injustice. How could we find a way out? How could we begin a completely different life? These questions concerned us for weeks and months.

    We all felt the suffering and sin of the world – guilt of the war, of the class struggle, of the social injustice.

    We found an answer in the Sermon on the Mount and the first church in Jerusalem (Acts 2–4). In this way we came on the idea to start a settlement, a community, in the spirit of the first Christians. At the same time we received a letter from Georg Flemmig, a religious socialist publisher in the town of Schlüchtern, who had discussed the same question with some of his friends: the founding of an “early church.” He also told us about the Habertshof near Schlüchtern, which was founded on communist principles in autumn 1919.

    We announced a conference for the beginning of March 1920 at the Inselberg mountain in Thuringia in order to talk over all these questions with our acquaintances. Proletarians, socialists, and communists came from Berlin, and representatives of the youth move­ment from Marburg, Oeynhausen, and Tambach. We met on a beautiful spring morning, most of us in unconventional, peasant clothing with knapsacks and guitars, and hiked singing up to the Inselberg. After hiking for several hours we were caught in a big snowstorm. The newly discovered old Ger­man folksongs came alive for us. Whether we sang nature songs, love songs, or religious songs, they were an inner experi­ence and bound us together. Of course we addressed one an­other as “Du.” We were simply human beings – brothers and sisters. In everything we did, we felt an expectation for something that was to come.

    At this conference it became clear to us that we should start a com­munity. Some wanted it based on political communist ideals, others on a purely human basis where each could live his own way. We felt an urge to build up a Christian community. After a lot of back and forth, a young woman stood up and said: “We have spoken enough. Let’s get to work!”

    In Berlin we were in serious conflict with the leadership of the Student Christian Movement. More than that – they were furious with us. The habits and forms of speech of the Christian fellowship movement seemed false and hypocritical to us. The Furche publishing house was too comfortable, too satisfied with what had been found. It was nation­alistic; it mourned Germany’s past, and hoped for a better future, for the return of Germany’s former calm. Many of our old friends were looking backwards, comforting themselves in their Christianity. We, on the other hand, saw God’s judgment more and more not as a misfortune for Germany, but rather as a cause for hope that life would be born of death. Eberhard often quoted the Reformation-era humanist Ulrich von Hutten: “Life is a joy – spirits are awaking!”

    The conflict with the Student Christian Movement became more and more unbear­able. Our friends thought we had abandoned the true faith because bit by bit we were shedding religious forms. They could not understand that young men and women addressed one another as “Du” – they were afraid of casual relationships between the sexes. But the opposite was the case. The hypocrisy of what had been going on under cover was more and more repulsive to us.

    The “Meissner Principles” of the Free German Youth – “to de­termine the shape of our lives for ourselves, on our own respon­sibility and with integrity” – were to direct us in all things. We wanted no difference between the “outer” life and the “inner” life, and we rejected all civilized outward piety, while we searched for a new expression, a new culture. Not that the indi­vidual person could make something, but a communal culture, born in community with others. We saw models of this in the Middle Ages, in its guilds, its architecture and paintings, its folk­songs and religious songs. Mary became for us an example of womanhood, so we liked to sing songs of Mary.

    German youth folk dancing

    German folk dancing at a Youth Movement gathering, 1922 Used with permission.

    The struggle in the Furche publishing house became hotter and hotter. Eberhard emphasized and favored articles that spoke of the fu­ture kingdom of God’s new order, a service to what is coming to be, and, on the other hand, the false social world order and our common guilt in the world’s need, war, class struggle, and injus­tice – while the others thought Eberhard had abandoned his focus on the cross. They believed he was trying to be a world-improver, a herald of a new age, and had forgotten the main thing. The opposite was the case! Where should we go with all our need and sin, except to Christ who was cruci­fied, who rose again, and will return as king? The whole crea­tion is waiting, groaning with us for the redemption of all things (Rom. 8) – and also of the individual, not isolated, but as part of the whole. Not only our salvation matters, but the redemption of the whole world in the expectation of the kingdom of God. So we were introduced to the religious socialist Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt and with him, to the theologians Leonhard Ragaz and Hermann Kutter. “Repent, the Lord is coming!” was our slogan.

    The conflict in the Furche was so unpleasant and fruitless that we de­cided to resign. Should we continue our life in such a pointless struggle? A meeting was held, in which Eberhard told his coworkers of his decision. I was also called upon, because they thought it irresponsible for a married man with a wife and five children to abandon his secure position.

    The same day, or perhaps the next, we received a telegram from Georg Flemmig’s circle in Schlüchtern requesting our help in founding the Neuwerk (“New Work”) publishing house. From then on, Eber­hard took many trips looking for a place to start a community, either in the city or the country, and trying to raise money from friends for the new publishing house. A possibility for a community focusing on social work in Halle with former friends of the Fellowship movement foundered because of opposition from the city’s housing committee. Besides, our proletarian friends strongly recom­mended a settlement in the country. Eberhard drove to Schlüchtern to talk with Georg Flemmig. He traveled to Ham­burg and then went with [Friedrich Wilhelm] Cordes to former sites where the Moravian Brethren had lived and worked. They looked at these ruins as possibilities for a new community settlement. Cordes, who would donate the money, considered the castles too romantic and run-down to be made livable quickly. But we got money from many sides for the new publishing house. A telegram from Kurt Woermann in Hamburg promised 30,000 marks for the beginning of the “early church.”

    So we prepared for a conference in Schlüchtern at Pentecost, to which we invited all interested friends and acquaintances. We took the five o’clock early-morning passenger train to Schlüchtern on the Satur­day before Whitsun. We traveled fourth class with many young people. At the various stops, new conference participants were picked up – recognizable by their simple youth-movement dress and guitars! “Off to Schlüchtern!” About two hundred people came. The whole town had prepared to receive these unusual guests. Many opened their homes in hospitality. Young men and women lived in separate barns. In the morning they could be seen going to the town well to get washed up. Others went to a nearby stream out­side the town. This was an unusual sight for the village!

    Meals were taken together in the abbey if we could not cook outside in the beautiful beech woods. Two stones were placed to shield the fire from the wind. A fire was built and a large cooking pot placed on the stones. Three to eight boys and girls gathered around each fire. The stew was stirred with a stick from which the bark had been pealed. Pre­paring such meals was part of all our conferences. Usually after breakfast we set off for the woods. There we first had an inner gathering. Somebody read a passage from the Bible. That would be our watchword for the day, a call to await what is coming.

    Once some Quakers who were with us, under the leadership of John Stephens from Birmingham, gathered everyone to a si­lent meeting. After a morning song in praise to God, John Stephens stood up and explained the idea of an hour of silence. He said that one can sit together for a long, long time, listening to the inner voice, without saying a word. One should only speak when one is urged by the spirit. As soon as he sat down, a professor stood up to give a lecture. John stood up and only said, “Pst, pst.” The professor sat down saying, “You are very intolerant.” He had not understood the sense of a Quaker meeting.

    We were so beggarly poor, so hungry and thirsty, so empty – and we waited to be filled with the Spirit that was poured out at Pentecost.

    What made the conference so meaningful was the experience of nature outside in the beech woods in the expectation of a true Pentecost. Over the whole time lay an expectancy for what is to come, the coming kingdom. We were so beggarly poor, so hungry and thirsty, so empty – and we wait­ed to be filled with the Spirit that was poured out at Pentecost. One evening we built a fire and stood around it in a big circle holding hands. “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). We sang fire songs. One person after another stepped out of the circle and spoke from his heart: “The old must be burned up,” so that, as with the phoenix, new life can arise from the ashes. Looking at the rising sparks and the blazing flames we experienced something of the first love. “Let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). With these words, which were spoken from the circle, we separated. Nothing more was said – we were united and deter­mined.

    Eberhard and Emmy Arnold

    The author and her husband, Whitsun, 1921 Used with permission.

    On one of the Whitsun days we visited the Habertshof – the new settlement that Georg Flemmig had told us about. It was a beautiful May morning. We walked up to the Habertshof, the girls with daisy garlands in their hair. Under the beeches we continued our meetings, still concerning ourselves with what is to come. We sensed the closeness of nature in God’s great creation. As the wind blew in the branches of the old beech tree, we felt the Spirit of God approaching – not like a rushing wind but a quiet whisper. We listened, afraid that it would with­draw because it is so incredibly delicate and shy. Afterwards we had many discussions about the future of our way. Those of us who wanted to live in community also had smaller meetings with members of the Habertshof. They had already had nine months of experience and told us some of their difficulties. Their com­mune made a deep impression on us. Their dress and their sim­ple farm houses, with plain benches and cooking pots – no more than what was essential: our new life, we felt, should look something like this.

    The rhythmic, even religious, circle dance of the youth move­ment was very much part of this conference. When we needed to refresh ourselves after difficult discussions about the very essence of life, or when we felt deeply and inwardly together, we joined hands and swung in step. Often we would sit on the hillside with lutes and guitars and sing old folksongs. Every song, whether it was a nature song, a Mary song, or even a love song, was a deep religious experience for us. God, or even Christ, did not need to be mentioned – but we affirmed our entire lives as given by God in his creation. An intimation passed through us of eternity en­tering time – that eternity must embrace everything – yes, that ultimately everything must be embraced by God.

    During the Whitsun days, the district administrator drew our attention to a big house in Sannerz which was available for lease or purchase and which might be suitable to start with. So the next morning we set off for San­nerz with some friends, an hour-and-a-half hike from Schlüchtern. Because we didn’t know the way, we bushwhacked over hill and dale to San­nerz. From the hillside we saw the charming little village in a hollow below us, and we clambered down a steep trail. The Catholic priest met us and showed us Conrad Paul’s house. Just across the road was a simple guesthouse, “Zum Stern.” The young proprietor, Lotzenius, and his wife were warm and friendly to us outlandish-looking visitors. We brought a sofa, benches, and a ta­ble out of a guestroom and sat down in front of the guesthouse, op­posite the house that interested us, called “the Villa.” From the outside it was certainly not what we had imagined. We would have preferred a simple farmhouse on the mountain – or even the guesthouse itself. Herr Lotzenius sat down with us after we had had coffee, bread, and jam, and began telling us the story of the little village – how it came to include both Catholics and Protestants, and how inheritance disputes and family feuds went back genera­tions; of Conrad Paul, owner of the Villa, who had had to marry his niece because she had a child by him.

    After eating we went over to look at the living possibilities. The house was clean with nice, simple rooms, perfect to start with. With it came a meadow with nice fruit trees, a fenced-in vegetable garden, and several acres of ar­able land. There was a barn for four cows, a pig stall, a hen house, and a stable. It all looked quite rustic. But on the outside steps were statues depicting spring, summer, autumn, and winter which we didn’t like at all, and we didn’t care for the Villa itself, built of red bricks. We spoke with Conrad Paul about possible purchase or rent and then arranged with Lotzenius that for the summer we would stay in his saddle workshop – two small rooms behind the guesthouse. He would set it up for us. From there we would acquire Conrad Paul’s house or another house for the beginning of our new life.

    There was no financial basis of any kind, either for starting this proposed business venture or for buying the Villa at Sannerz and realizing our dream of a community house. But that made no difference. We decided it was time to turn our backs on the past and start afresh in full trust. Well-meaning friends shook their heads. What an act of rash irresponsibility for a father of five little children to go into the unknown just like that! Frau Michaelis, the wife of Eberhard’s former boss at the publishing house who had served as Chancellor of the Reich during the war, visited me and offered to help the children and me should my husband really take this “unusual” step. After talking with me, she reported to a mutual friend: “She is even more fanatical than he is! There is nothing we can do.”

    Back in Berlin, we put all our energy into the move. Eberhard and my sister Else, who worked as his secretary, had to wind up projects at Furche and at the same time set up the new Neuwerk publishing house and magazine. Suse Hungar, Emy-Margret’s teacher and a Salvation Army officer, had joined our family. Our five children tried to help with packing. The boys and two-year-old Moni were often very wild, so that our babysitter said she would rather look after a sack of fleas.

    The children made friends with all our acquaintances. Our house was always full, and especially that last year in Berlin, visitors came day and night. Young radicals often spent the night on the car­pet in our living room.

    Eberhard and Emmy Arnold's family

    Eberhard and Emmy Arnold and their children, photographed a few years before making their radical move to begin an intentional Christian community. Used with permission.

    In March the children all had measles. They recovered quick­ly except for Moni, who remained pretty miserable. She had stomach trouble and had lost her ability to walk.

    Because Moni couldn’t get over her stomach trouble, the pediatrician advised us to bring her into the country immediate­ly. Eberhard and I decided to take her to Sannerz the next day. It was a Sunday and the summer solstice, June 21. So we set off with our sweet but very lively and strenuous little girl. Both fa­ther and daughter felt sick on the trip, so for all three of us it was exhausting. Eberhard rejected my suggestion to spend the night in Fulda. He just wanted to get to our destination. So we arrived at the train station around nine in the evening and walked for a good half hour with a little push wagon to Sannerz. It was a beautiful sum­mer night, and we were accompanied by fireflies. Moni was a bit grumpy – whenever Eberhard pushed the wagon she cried, “No, Mama push.”

    We arrived at Lotzenius’s guesthouse around nine thirty – and nothing had been prepared for us. We laid straw sacks on the simple peasants’ beds and, exhausted, all three of us slept sound all night. The first day, Frau Lotzenius cooked for us. But she told us that she was too busy with haying and planting beets and would not be able to continue. So a cooking stove was put in the workshop, which had been cleaned and set up for us. But where should we get wood and everything we needed? And the next day Suse Hungar and a Salvation Army sister were to arrive with our other four children. Everything was very primitive – but that is what we wanted. We never missed our big apartment with central heating, hot water, and all the conveniences that were customary in most middle-class homes in Berlin.

    Herr Lotzenius helped us get what we needed for the first days, so we could joyfully await the arrivals. I made each of them a cornflower garland, and we met their train with a horse cart. We enjoyed the first days of quiet life in the country very much. In the mornings we continued setting up and took care of the children, the cooking, and the washing. In the afternoons we went to the Albinger Mountains with a wagon to collect firewood, which the forester had permitted. Then we looked for strawberries or told the children stories, or watched a rabbit, or memorized verses and songs. Now and then we would go to town to pick up supplies – eggs, butter, and honey. Our lit­tle Moni got better on the first day and we could see her im­prove. After a few days Eberhard returned to Berlin to help Else with all that still had to be done. How happy we were when they both arrived on July 5. What joy and excitement! Now the new life could really begin!

    Certainly we had hoped that we would have some time to catch our breath after the strain of the last years in Berlin. But from the first day after Eberhard and Else joined us, the place was buzzing with visitors. Young men with bare legs and often bare torsos came to look at the new settlement or help in the building up. Girls came too, and almost every evening we had long discussions about socialism and com­munism, agape and eros, individualism and community, etc. The guests were drawn into the work, which consisted primarily of hauling and splitting wood.

    The inner founding of our community took place in autumn when we read the First Letter of John together with the household and a few close friends. Eberhard read it aloud. We felt strongly the bond of love that drew us closely together. And so it came about that one of those present suggested that in this hour, when the basis of our life was brought so clearly before our eyes, we hold a simple Lord’s Supper. Eberhard asked that we separate first to think about it in silence. He appealed to all who were there only to return if they could come in the right spirit, based on a deep experience of Christ. After about an hour the whole circle gath­ered around our round table – a picture of a chain of which no link is missing. It was a holy meal of love and expectation.

    Out of this experience the suggestion was made that we have an hour, either in the morning or at midnight, when the whole household would meet in silence. Close friends away from San­nerz would meet at the same time. We would listen for eternity and await the breaking in of God’s reign. We decided to meet at six in the morning. We gathered punctually in silence at this hour, which gave us strength for the whole day. Nobody missed this meeting unless he was divided within himself or had a disagreement with somebody else. Very often we were completely quiet. Some­times a song was suggested or Eberhard would read an im­portant passage from the New Testament or from another wit­ness. Or somebody in the circle spoke freely from his heart. We sensed that a light was burning among us, and it warmed and gladdened us.

    We felt that nothing could be separate anymore, but everything must be united in the atmosphere of Christ.

    The first period of Sannerz lasted from autumn 1920 to summer 1922. This was the time of founding and first enthusiasm. What thrilled us was waiting together for the coming kingdom, the ex­pectation of the age of love, the age of John, when world suffer­ing and sin, social injustice and murder and death will be over­come. We expected this not in some distant future but felt it could become reality every day for this earth. So we felt urged to fashion our life on this future, that eternity become time. We felt that nothing could be separate anymore, but everything must be united in the atmosphere of Christ. And, as a budding community, we wanted to dedicate our lives to this goal of unity.

    Bit by bit we rented all the apartments in the Sannerz villa, renamed the Sonnherz Haus (“Sunheart House”). When we were able to agree with Conrad Paul on the rent for the house and land and the purchase of the livestock and fixtures – which he made difficult, and we could only do it after Woermann’s money arrived – then jubilation rang through the whole house. When this large sum of money arrived we wanted to demonstrate to all the world that nobody had a claim on this money and other sums that we and others deposited. It could only be used for the community. This was legally documented and a registered society was founded. According to the statutes, the members promised to work under simple conditions for basic necessities. Four board members had to be elected to exe­cute matters in the name of all. Nobody thought of any kind of ranking; the brotherhood (which included the board) made all decisions. The board members at the time were Eberhard and me, the poet Otto Salomon, and Suse Hungar. The Neuwerk publishing house was registered separately as a commercial company under Eberhard’s direction, in which a group of friends and acquaintances held shares. Else was business manager. The publishing house launched a monthly magazine, Das neue Werk (“The New Work”), with Eberhard and two others as editors.

    After Christmas we started our little garden with a theoreti­cally trained agronomist. In spite of all our efforts it had brought in very little harvest. To the amusement of our neighbors, our agronomist had set up a whole forest of bean poles on the field – but had forgotten to plant the beans! He had let a farmer take away the precious manure, because it blocked the view. So the soil, which was poor in any case, was not fertilized for potatoes and cabbage, and they hardly pro­duced, since in addition it was a very dry summer.

    Meanwhile, the publish­ing house had worked feverishly. By autumn 1921, there was a whole row of completed books. There had been a steady stream of guests, so we always said: “Ten were invited, twenty have come. Put water in the soup and bid them all welcome.” We had to guard our working hours. So that there wasn’t too much noise and disturbance in the house, we hung little notes everywhere: “Support the work with silence.” The guests usually worked hauling wood or in the garden. Women and girls helped with housework, cooking, laundry, and cleaning.

    The year 1921 brought us many, many visitors. Our small household or “shock troop” consisted of only seven. But we were surrounded by forty to fifty guests and helpers on any given day. The newcomers often didn’t see what our community’s mission was, because it played out in a hidden way. Anyone who was able to recognize it understood very well who and what carried our common life forward.

    Every day, every hour is an experience that will never return.

    Every day was a new experience, and Eberhard emphasized again and again that every encounter was a one-time meeting; every day, every hour is an experience that will never return. For this reason every hour, every minute is infinitely precious. Our whole life is a sacrifice – life is not divided any more – the outer as well as the inner is completely one and determined. It is no mass movement, but each is completely responsible for everything, a firmly resolved shock troop. This was the watchword. If we had had a broader basis, many more would have stayed who were awakened at the time! But each individual was made responsible for everything again and again.

    There was no standstill, but always only forwards! Boredom or a desire to sleep were unthinkable. If anyone missed a mealtime he noticed that he had lost the thread and had to find it again. In the evenings after work or on Sundays we walked in the open beech woods and experienced God the Creator. We experienced something of the blowing of the Spirit, and we lis­tened. This Spirit brought Christ to us, the redeemer of all sin and need and injustice, the coming one! …

    The Sannerz House, an intentional Christian community

    The Sannerz House, 1920 Used with permission.

    Much was said and written about Sannerz. Professors visited us to get to know the movement and write about it. Most of all, people were interested in the attempt to live out the Sermon on the Mount and in the attitude of a Christian to political move­ments. In the old world, Christ stood on the side of nationalism or conservatism. In the new time, many young people were more sympa­thetic to the socialists, communists, and anarchists. They felt that these movements in their animated liberty, equality, and fraternity were closer to Christ’s gospel than the old and the satisfied that thought they had the answers. “If the children are silent, the stones will cry out.” If the nominal Christians in their satisfaction are silent, then the non-Christians will arise with Christian demands. Namely: Love your neighbor, procure for him an existence worthy of man!

    The poverty in Sannerz was great. A small publishing house with a small garden and agriculture had to feed an ever-growing circle. The children were often lacking the basics – shoes, bread, fat, etc. Then two additional small children were placed with us. Some of our visitors considered this irresponsible be­cause we did not have enough for our own children. But we be­lieved that mountains could be moved. Once a guest asked us what we meant by that. Eberhard answered calmly: “That simply means that the mountain is standing here today, and tomorrow it is in a completely different place” (while he looked out the window at the Rhön mountains).

    What was unique in Sannerz was that we had no “guests,” only coworkers. Everyone who came was handed an ax or a hatchet for splitting wood, or a spade, regardless of who he was. Often at conferences or lectures people asked if they could come to Sannerz for a few days of rest, and maybe pay a fee. We always refused. Even our relatives were asked to work with us when they came. So some simply stayed away. And for many it was a hard test to haul wood from the forest in ice and snow and cold wind. Even some tramps and workmen walked out on us. The food was too poor and the work too hard. Nights were short – and they were spent in barns or attics. If someone wanted to talk, Eberhard usually went with him to the compost pile or worked on a path or mowing hay. In winter he built a fantastic sledding track for the children. To take a walk without working was unthinkable, and nobody would have un­derstood it. On the long road to the printer in Schlüchtern or the train station in Vollmerz or Sterbfritz one could accompany guests and share heart to heart. We women also talked with guests in the garden or while washing vegetables. The sentence from the Didache, that nobody in the church should be lazy, struck us deeply and we could do no other. Faith had to be active in love.

    For a more complete account read her book A Joyful Pilgrimage.


    Translated from the German and adapted by Emmy Barth Maendel.

    Contributed By Emmy Arnold Emmy Arnold

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

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