KIT – The Keep In Touch Newsletter

Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
The KIT Newsletter editorial staff welcomes all suggested contributions for publication in the Newsletter from
subscribers and readers, but whether a given submission meets the criteria for publication is at the sole
discretion of the editors. While priority will be given to original contributions by people with past Bruderhof
connections, any letters, articles or reports which the editors deem to be of historical or personal interest or to
offer new perspectives on issues of particular relevance to the ex-Bruderhof Newsletter readership, may be
included as well. The editors may suggest to the authors changes to improve their presentation.
Have you made your KIT Newsletter subscription/donation payment this year?
Please find details on the last page.
Erdmuthe Arnold: Goodbye – Although I'm Still Hanging Around. ........................................................... Page 1
Susanna Alves: Introduction of the new KIT Newsletter editor. ................................................................ Page 2
Linda Lord: Goodbye and Welcome. ........................................................................................................ Page 2
Raphael Vowles: We have a new Editor.................................................................................................... Page 3
Andy Harries: Half a Day in the Life of an Old Grey Beard. ...................................................................... Page 4
Dan Thorn and his fundamental premise as synthesized on the Humma. .................................................... Page 5
Phil Hazelton: The Comet......................................................................................................................... Page 5
Hans Zimmermann: “El Diablo”................................................................................................................ Page 6
Amanda Stängl Gurganus: Sergei.............................................................................................................. Page 8
Tim Johnson: Ausschluss: A look at Shunning Practices in the Bruderhof in Comparison with Other Religious
Groups. .................................................................................................................................................... Page 9
Remembering dear ones who have passed from this life:
Joan Fischer (wife of Wilhelm “Kulla” Fischer jr), 29 November 2013. ................................................... Page 18
Heinrich Otto Pleil, 20 January 2014....................................................................................................... Page 18
Raphael Vowles: KIT Accounts – Financial Year 2013-2014. ................................................................. Page 19
Contact Details of Volunteers who Produce the KIT Newsletter. ............................................................ Page 19
Goodbye– Although I'm Still Hanging Around
by Erdmuthe Arnold
Dear Readers of the Keep In Touch (KIT) Newsletter:
For nearly seven years I have been editing the KIT Newsletter, having taken over
from Ben Cavanna. I had assisted Ben and Charlie Lamar since mid-2005. After
eighteen issues – beginning with the December issue of 2007 and ending with the
December issue of 2013 – personal reasons have forced me to step down as editor,
but I will still be around as a reader and writer.
I have enjoyed doing the editorial and production work with the help of the other
volunteers who joined our new global “publishing office” in 2007 or later. I want to
particularly mention Charlie, who has belonged to the Newsletter team ever since the
beginning in 1989 (twenty-five years ago!); he helped out behind the scenes to
improve English grammar for me and other contributors. A big thank you also goes
to Linda Lord Jackson (a great translator and good contact person for all subscribers),
Dave Ostrom and Joy MacDonald (both of them faithful and active volunteers since
the beginning), and to Tim Johnson, Ruth Lambach, Raphael Vowles, Anthony Lord
and Margot Purcell.
My thank you also goes to our readers who contributed financially and didn’t hesitate to send in submissions.
Without our readers and writers we couldn’t go on keeping in touch via our Newsletter, which turned out to be an
Erdmuthe Arnold, 2011
The Keep In Touch Newsletter Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
important resource for sharing and discussions about our past and for trying to help each other to overcome lifelong
pains caused by a religious sect many years ago.
In the closed Yahoo Hummerlist email group it was discussed who might take over my job. Rosie Johnson
Sumner and Susanna Alves both volunteered; in the end it was Susanna who became the new editor. The other
volunteers are all staying on board. We have gotten to know Susanna through her own beautifully written stories
in our Newsletter. Let me ask every one of you to help Susanna with submissions and to continue with your
financial contributions to secure the future of our publication.
I also want to acknowledge the ex-Bruderhofers who left the community long after the very abrupt closures of
Primavera, Wheathill, Bulstrode and Sinntal in 1961-1964: You are all wholeheartedly welcomed in our loose-knit
KIT group of Bruderhof leavers. All of us suffered hardships and brainwashing etc. in various ways and to different
degrees and I’m sure that an open discussion would help on every side. Sadly, the Bruderhof calls us enemies of
the community and threatens leavers not to get in touch with us – the “embittered ones” – or the connections to their
beloved family members in the Bruderhof will be cut off.
During the last two gatherings in England (2012) and USA (2013) we welcomed several “younger” leavers.
Those who came encountered many friendly, open-minded people who understood their experiences (see the
December 2013 KIT Newsletter, pages 1-4). I want to encourage any and all of you to join us in this bulletin.
Introduction of the new KIT Newsletter editor:
My name is Susanna Alves. I will be the latest to have a go at editing KIT, since
Erdmuthe had to sign off editing the Newsletter for personal reasons.
A little about me: I am a daughter of Emil (Migg) and Hilde Fischli. I grew up
in Primavera, Paraguay in the 1940s and 1950s, mostly in Loma Hoby, later also
spending time in Ibaté and Isla Margarita. By early 1960, I left the Bruderhof
behind to go and live in Brazil where I married and raised a daughter of my own.
Since 2005, I live in Puerto Iguazú in northeastern Argentina, a town by the great
Iguazú Falls, where I find myself surrounded by the kind of nature as I recall it
from my years growing up in Primavera.
I wish to solicit your continued support for the Newsletter, including your
financial contributions, large or small, as well as material for publication: letters,
articles, essays, poems. Also, we love to have photographs to go along with the
Please submit your materials in any format, including handwritten, to any of the
KIT Collaborators listed on the last page of the Newsletter. They will know how
to forward your items to me. I can receive things electronically, but the postal
service being as it is in Argentina, it is not advisable that anyone attempt to send
me anything by regular snail mail post.
One thing new and distinct from our traditional Newsletter appearance is that
we will be innovating different formats for those who want them, such as web
friendly with enlargeable fonts, as well as the conventional printed version.
Readers might wish to consider being sent the email version, which will offer
many photographs in full colour. Further content-sharing ideas may also evolve.
So, let's all continue making this Newsletter an attractive and effective vehicle for Keeping In Touch.
Goodbye, and Welcome
by Linda Lord
Erdmuthe, thank you for all the hard work you have put in over the years. I have enjoyed working with you, with
translations, our discussions, sometimes disagreements, then resolutions. It has all been challenging and fun. I hope
you will now find time to rest and recover your good health. All the best.
Susanna, welcome to the tough job of editing the KIT Newsletter. I look forward to working with you, and
perhaps to a new era for the Newsletter. I will help in any way needed.
Susanna with daughter Andréa,
December 2013
The Keep In Touch Newsletter Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
We Have a New Editor
by Raphael Vowles
On 16
January 2014, Erdmuthe Arnold announced her retirement from editing the KIT Newsletter, having ably
led the project for seven years. Some of us had become aware of her intention to step down at some future time, yet
were surprised and sorry about the suddenness of her announcement. There will be glowing tributes, both public
and private, to her valiant efforts during her tenure, which are certainly appreciated by those working most closely
with her, as well as the general readership. Thank you for a wonderful job well done. The new editor for this and
the upcoming issues is Susanna Alves and I wish her well in her tenure. Susanna has offered to give us her best
My purpose here is to describe how the new editor was selected, and to discuss some of the issues that arose
along the way. This is inevitably my own point of view. Please let us hear your views. I want to draw particular
attention to the proposals for change and the outstanding issues presented below, in hopes that your feedback will
help make the Newsletter even better in the future.
Let us start with a bit of KIT history. The interested reader can refer to a longer analysis in the KIT Newsletter
Dec2011 Vol XXIII No3 page 4, titled: “A Community of Bruderhof Leavers: The KIT Phenomenon, as a
Community at the Margins”, by Ruth Lambach and Tim Johnson.
Ramon Sender was the first editor many years ago. When Ramon stepped down, Charlie Lamar, Ben Cavanna
and Dave Ostrom took over. Subsequently, Erdmuthe Arnold took up the reins and successfully produced seven
years of Newsletters, ending with her last issue in December of 2013. More on that later.
The “snail mail” KIT Newsletter is the oldest and slowest medium of communication, but it serves as a
“publication of record”, with important subscribers in university archives and other communitarian interested bodies.
An archive of KIT Newsletters is also maintained at “KIT” simply means, “Keep In Touch.”
A team of volunteers looks after subscriptions, production and distribution, but no one “runs” the KIT Newsletter.
There is no mechanism to look to the interests and governance of the Newsletter itself. To date, the practice has been
that “we muddle along” – the volunteers perform essential functions, and the editor produces the Newsletter
periodically. Everyone works on trust. This loose arrangement has worked well, but it breaks down when the editor
Quite naturally perhaps, the matter came up for discussion on Hummer. One volunteer came forward
immediately, offering to take forward ideas gleaned from KIT discussions developed and enhanced over the past
two years. Another followed, offering to take things forward 'as is', and another offered his 'way forward'.
(Confidentiality prevents the precise re-telling of the discussions.) Certain ideas, first developed at Friendly
Crossways 2011, were summarised as follows: (A more expansive proposal is available on request.)
Frequency – Increase Newsletter frequency to monthly emailed versions. Redesign to make for
easier reading on-line, encourage lots of pictures, aim for fully searchable document.
Printed version – available with conglomerate of content from monthly Newsletter, at least twice
a year. Format these for easy reading of printed content. Posted out by volunteers, to those who need
Involvement – Broaden the editorial reach by proactively seeking lead contacts to encourage newer
leavers to contribute, lead drivers for different sections, translators, transcribers, etc. Spread the load,
actively encouraging younger people with relevant skills to help.
Broaden the range of readers who act as editorial advisors on inclusions, with the objective of
sharing as much and diverse input as possible relating to Bruderhof and post-Bruderhof life and
times, experiences, concerns and issues.
e-Newsletter to be issued monthly, regardless of amount of content, to encourage feedback and
more input. Ideas for input, e.g.: ‘Your earliest memory’, ‘First week out’, ‘Recollections from ex-
full members’, ‘First outside school experience’, etc.
Proposed regular sections: Ripples (community experience after community), Finding Feet (early
experiences after leaving), Bruderhof current affairs, KIT folk update (what I’m up to now),
Obituary, Archive. Additional headings welcomed. Where possible, section editors to be given
responsibility for encouraging and making contributions.
Charging structure to encourage email recipients.
For me, the outstanding issues can be further summarised as:
The Keep In Touch Newsletter Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
Should there be a revised format? If so, how?
Would the Newsletter be more vital by more immediately reflecting the contributions of its
Could we attract an expanding readership and also attract more recent leavers?
Should the editorship be broken up into a group of interested volunteers who would agree on
content and future directions?
To what extent does the readership (you) have a right to participate in all aspects of the editorship?
By 28
January 2014, the discussions had resulted in only one volunteer remaining. It was Susanna Alves, the
one who had originally offered to take on the KIT Newsletter 'as is'. I invited Susanna to formally accept the
My action was probably questionable, as I certainly don’t have authority to appoint an editor. That step should
probably have been debated further. In any event, I did take that pragmatic step on behalf of the Newsletter
production team, and at my request Charlie Lamar announced the new editorship on Hummer shortly thereafter.
So, dear reader, we have come through another muddled process. It is a miracle of trust and belief in the co-
operative KIT process that has got us through. I wish us all the best for the future successes we will no doubt enjoy.
Half a Day in the Life of an Old Grey Beard
by Andy Harries
A half-hour brisk walk to the nature reserve; walk round the
first lake; meander across the two sections of the river on
board walks, here are excellent opportunities to stop and
observe the wildlife of the river and the overgrown ground in
between. Then settle down for a
half hour on the bench by the other
large lake. Get out binoculars and
wait for any birds or other wildlife.
There are always some water fowl
– ducks, geese, swans, coots,
moorhens, gulls, cormorants, great-
crested grebes; as well as other
birds flying overhead – pigeons,
crows, herons, sometimes swallows, swifts, house-martins,
kestrels, sparrowhawks and others – sometimes a flash of blue as a kingfisher flashes past and, if I am lucky, it will
settle on a branch not far away so I can watch it waiting to dive for a fish. Whatever it is that I see, I will raise my
binoculars to zoom in and get a close-up view. If it is lousy weather I might not see anybody else. With an umbrella
up, the birds seem to take less notice of me. Sometimes swallows come skimming over the lake in front of me and
fly low over my head as if I weren't there at all. Very few people come this side of the lake because dogs are not
allowed here, so it is very quiet. Occasionally I spy something moving in the water, and on closer look, I see an otter
playing or diving to catch fish. They are not supposed to come out in the daytime, but they do here sometimes; they
are always so entertaining.
Then another twenty minutes brisk walk along the river to town. I follow the path
along the river; there are some large carved wooden animals, birds and insects along
the way, many of which are copied from the book, “The Wind in the Willows,” and
painted by children from local schools.
Further on is The Poets’ Trail, with metal plaques set into the path with quotations
from different well known poets, as this one, by Willow Merewood:
Things aren’t like they used to be,
You’ve got it easy, wait and see.
And as dear granny talks and talks,
At least we’ve still got country walks.
The bench where I sit
The Keep In Touch Newsletter Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
When our grandchildren were younger (and so was I), our grandson liked to challenge me to race him from one
of the poems to the next. He was happiest of course when I let him win. Later I didn’t have to let him win, I couldn’t
help it.
A bit of time to stroll through the town centre and do any necessary shopping, and another half hour of a brisk
walk back home. So I have fulfilled four of my needs: exercise, birding, relaxing with nature, and shopping.
Job well done.
Well, here is the fundamental premise of Dan Thorn,
as synthesized on the Humma:
To suggest that what we know by faith we can know by reason is simply another way to say that faith is absurd. We
can not believe something we know, or know something we believe. For obviously, once something is known, it
is no longer a matter of belief, but of knowledge. Yet the declaration that we could know that faith is absurd is a
direct contradiction to the very way we know things. Aquinas can not in the same breath declare that absence of
evidence of faith (i.e. something we can't know by reason) becomes evidence of absence (of faith) – in contradiction
of the very logic that underpins the reason he bases his knowledge on. We can not ever know if something is not,
we can only know if something is, or if something has not yet been known.
I like to ask people who opine that I should believe in global warming, because a consensus of scientists believe
in global warming, which of those three words, belief, science, and consensus do not belong with the other two?
A consensus of scientists have believed all sorts of things over the years, little things like how flat the world is,
for example, and the lesson I draw from that is that belief and consensus do little to further the cause of science.
The same problem arises for scientists who declare they are atheists, that God does not exist. How, well...
unscientific. No scientist would ever declare today that black swans do not exist because they have never been seen.
A scientist would say, Well, we have never observed a black swan, but we don't know whether they exist or not.
Does God exist? I don't know; I only know I haven't seen him.
Do I believe in God? I am not opposed to this, I see much pleasantness and many advantages to believing in a
God. However, I have no idea which one I would choose. There have been so many Gods that people have believed
in, or for that matter, I am not yet sure whether I should have my own; there are so many possibilities for belief and
for what God could be. (I resist the randomness of choosing my parents’ God, what if my parents were Hindu, do
I therefore have to believe in the Hindu Gods? Does such an accident of birth have to prescribe my selection of
God?) This is perhaps the chief advantage of God: Belief has no limits; there is no thing God could not be. How
wonderful, and indeed people have created lots of wonder with their various Gods. Yet also troublesome, for people
also have created lots of trouble with one God or the other.
Of course, God does exist in one way, in the same way that any invention or creation or idea exists. Some
inventions exist physically, ideas exist in the abstract, but are none the less real and knowable. God exists if man
has created him.
Faith is, by the very act of believing. So I say: Have faith, but do it with wonder, not trouble.
by Phil Hazelton
It is December 1947. Christmas pork and lard are in short supply in Isla Margarita. Dad is asked to scour the villages
and the natives’ farms along the Carolina-Santani route for some suitable very big and very fat pigs. We arrive at
a typical campesino or native’s farm situated on the forest edge facing toward the plains. At the usual ritual of
announcing ourselves by clapping hands at the entrance to his fenced-in house, Guinea hens, chicken and ducks all
start up a racket. An emaciated mongrel comes lunging for our legs. The man comes out and throws sticks and
stones at the beast before we loose any limbs.
We spend a long time just exchanging how-de-doos and drink tereré. Then Dad pops the question: “Acaso tiene
unos chanchos gordos para vender?” [Do you by chance have some fat pigs for sale?]
“No, ndarekoi/ndaipori,” he answers in Guaraní, “I have none, there are none.”
More tereré and some chipá*) and other nibbles. Now two hogs are led out with rawhide thongs on their legs.
We admire them, haggle for a bit, then try to figure a way to get them onto the waggon. We need help! Once on,
The Keep In Touch Newsletter Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
and after the pigs’ blood-curdling screams have settled down, we fix up our water barrel and start to pour water over
the stressed beasts to prevent them from dying of heatstroke and heart failure.
By now, it is early afternoon and we say goodbye. We start to trundle homeward. The sun descends and evening
approaches; we will be travelling into the night.
At around 6:00 to 7:00pm we arrive at the eastern edge of Tuyango, and there’s where we spot the comet hanging
exactly like the Star of Bethlehem above the dark forest outline. It takes our breath away.
Dad always did like the night skies, and had learned a lot about them. After a snack of corned beef and
galletas**), we wait for an alzaprima, an ox-drawn log cart, to emerge from the jungle, where we had been hearing
the clanging and shouts and grunts and expletives of the carreteros, the drivers, for some time. Once the cart
emerges and the track is free, we enter the deep, dark jungle and continue on, to Isla Margarita, my birth home.
*) chipá: a lovely sort of croissant (like its Brazilian counterpart, ‘pão de queijo’ [cheese bread]), made of
manioc flour and flavoured with cheese; to be made and eaten fresh each day. Country folks would bake them in
a hollowed out anthill (tacurú).
**) galleta: a hard, round, white dough cracker made of flour and water, pretty well flavourless; a way of
preserving ‘bread’, and much beloved by the country folks.
by Hans Zimmermann, February 2014
This is a story I had intended to write many years ago but never could get myself to do so until recent postings on
the Hummer and on Mark Trapnell’s “Ibate-Yvate” site on facebook,
which finally gave me the incentive.
In the early years, Primavera’s range cattle and dairy cows were a mix
of criollo and zebu. The criollo are the descendants of Spanish breeds,
many with big and long horns such as the longhorn cattle of the
American west. One needs to understand the behavior of range cattle:
when they encounter a dog, coyote or people on foot, they have a
tendency to bunch together, showing a united front to either defend their
calves or out of pure curiosity. When they do so they frequently tend to
advance as a group or herd, giving the impression that they want to
attack. However, in most cases they will stop and advance no further if
one stands one’s ground. Because it looks so threatening, we as children
chose to run for the next fence, termite hill or tree if there was one
nearby. Discretion was the better part of valor. When a herd with a big
bull or cow with large horns led the pack, one really did not want to test
this theory, so we ran. I don’t know of a single incident where someone was run down by a cow or a bull on the
open campo.
I worked for many years in Paraguay, on our ranch and others, and found this to be true. We frequently worked
on foot while having range cattle in the corral and even then the wild animals never charged you with the intention
of harming you. On occasion, when an animal wanted to break from the herd and came snorting into your direction,
at the last moment it veered off to avoid contact. Now, this changed when a cow or bull was cornered and was
willing to defend itself. In that case, it was not advisable to be a hero like a Spanish Toreador, as the animal would
try to get you.
This, from my observation, held true except for one bull which we bred in Loma Hoby. He became so vicious
and aggressive that we called him “El Diablo”, “The Devil”, for his mean disposition.
I do not know if it was coincidence or if it was due to the genes of his father, a white-black-speckled bull we had
bought from an Estancia just east of the city of San Pedro, the capital of the Departamento, San Pedro. I wrote about
this in my story, “Moving into the Workforce”. The father of El Diablo was of the Zebu Gia breed, quite compact
and short, with a bulging forehead and short horns that curved over its head similar to the American bison. He
seemed as docile as the rest of the group, so maybe El Diablo’s aggressiveness was due to a recessive gene passed
on through his mother?
Hans Zimmermann with a Zebu Nelore,
Asunción 1960
The Keep In Touch Newsletter Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
The bulls were bred to our Plantell (breeding herd) of zebu cows. When the first crop of new calves was one year
old, we separated the best looking bull calves, those which best represented the traits we hoped to carry over into
the rest of our beef cattle. These young bulls did not go willingly and tried again and again to return to their mothers
and herd. Among them was this good-looking young bull which looked very much like his father. This little fellow
did not want to be separated and when forced again and again, he took a stand and just rammed rider and horse.
There was no danger to the horse, as he was still a calf with no horns, but nevertheless he kept charging and
charging, getting madder by the minute. The charges now were accompanied with aggressive snorting, with snot
flying. The Paraguayan cowboys thought it was hilarious the way the little fellow was behaving. Willing or not, he
eventually joined the rest of the yearlings. However, whenever we had to move them from one location to another,
he took a stand. It always became confrontational. In the beginning it seemed like a game, but as he grew older and
bigger the encounters became more dangerous. His willingness to attack with his customary snorting and spitting
fire and willingness to ram the horses became dangerous, so the natives called him “El Diablo”.
I personally did not like this behaviour, as this kind of aggressiveness is what cattlemen try to breed out of a herd.
Johnny Robinson would have been the first one to tell you so. However, Peti Mathis was in love with this little
devil. To him he looked just like the perfect specimen of that breed.
I now left for my training on other ranches in Paraguay and did not return to our cattle ranch and work until two-
and-a-half years later. It did not take long before I encountered El Diablo again. He was now 5 years old, fully
grown and, not surprisingly, as mean as ever. Now he meant to hurt us. When one encountered him on the open
range among his cows, the rule was ‘stay away’. If you approached him on a horse, this bull attacked you without
hesitation. You had better get out of there as fast your horse
would carry you. Otherwise, you would risk being rammed,
a risk to both rider and horse. At round-up time, with the
cracking of whips and hollering, the cows would start
moving and with them, El Diablo. Once in the corral he
would move to the farthest corner, but again the rule was:
stay away from him. If I’d had my way, this animal would
have been turned into a steer long ago.
Eventually, during the round-up, El Diablo often chose
to head for the nearby forest or copse, to avoid entering the
corral, which to him was very stressful. So, as he was not
the object of the round-up, we did not bother to bring him
back to the herd and this behaviour became a habit.
It was not long thereafter that Primavera was going to be
sold, and an arrangement was made to sell our beef cattle
herd to Liebig’s, a British company with ranches and a big
meat processing plant just outside of Asuncion. All of our cattle were gathered on the relatively small campo
Riveros-Cué, which was bordered on the north-east by Monte Octavian. The cattle had to be rounded up in our
complex of corrals, commonly known to us as “Brennkorral” (branding corrals). Here, they were to be vaccinated
and re-branded with the Liebig’s brand, then to be driven to
an Estancia just south of Puerto Rosario.
True to form, El Diablo chose to disappear into Monte
Octavian. Like it or not, we had to get him out of there. My
dogs soon tracked him down and held him at bay. But El
Diablo would not budge, and although the dogs hardly
bothered him, he flicked them away like flies. However, when
we got close to him on horseback, he charged with his
customary snorting, and one rider barely avoided being
toppled, horse and all. The bull was surrounded by a patch of
spiky “Caraguatás” (bromeliads) and so, felt he had the
advantage. No fear in this fellow.
We were now at a standstill. What should we do? I decided
to cut a long pole with my machete-í and sharpened one end,
Hans Zimmermann and Peti Mathis:
the last round-up
Hans Zimmermann and his brother Kurt, on
Mercedes and Butzi
The Keep In Touch Newsletter Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
with the idea of creeping up on him from behind. I told the Paraguayans to leave the direction to the campo open,
in the hope that the bull would head that way after being unceremoniously rammed from behind. As my dogs were
distracting the bull, I crept close enough to thrust the pole into his rear end. It worked. With the surprise poke the
bull charged forward with a tremendous snort, while the riders gave him a wide berth. Now El Diablo, followed by
my howling dogs, headed for the open campo, where he joined the waiting herd, which was then driven into the
Once in the corral, we chose the largest of our Santa Gertrudis bulls, who was much bigger and heavier than El
Diablo and who would help control his aggressive behavior. We roped these bulls and dragged them next to each
other, where they were coupled together “a la collero”. This meant the lead animal had a double leather strap put
around his neck which was attached to one end of a piece of strong wood about 3 feet long. The leather straps on
the other end were wrapped around the horns of the wild animal. This helped control the strength and behavior of
the aggressive animal and it was amazing to see how docile El Diablo became being tethered to the larger Santa
Gertrudis bull. Now we were able to safely drive El Diablo along with the rest of the herd.
This was our last round-up, as the cattle left early the next morning. It also was one of my most painful memories,
as I had to give up my two favorite horses, Mercedes and Butzi. But I had no such feelings towards El Diablo, as
he had been a thorn in my side for years.
by Amanda Stängl Gurganus
There were many interesting people connected with the Paraguayan Bruderhof, but perhaps the one with the most
fascinating story among those I was acquainted with was a Russian man named Sergei. In 1917, Sergei had been
a personal guard to the Czar. 1917, of course, was the year of the communist revolution and overthrow of the
Russian government. The coup was bloody, and atrocities occurred on both sides. Sergei's experience, though, went
beyond any semblance of wartime cruelty. Sergei was tied to a tree, and forced to witness the execution of his entire
I cannot possibly imagine the grief and pain that Sergei had to endure because of the abhorrent acts he saw. In
the end, he was able to escape from the communists, and eventually made his way to South America.
I am not sure about the time line involved in Sergei's trek from Russia, nor do I know the routes he traversed or
the hardships he endured to arrive, as he did, in Paraguay. There was a Russian doctor who practiced medicine in
a Mennonite hospital some miles away from Sergei's house. I know that they were friends, but I do not know, at this
point, if they had helped each other to escape from Russia, or if they became acquainted after they both arrived in
Paraguay. In any case, Sergei had a small house very near the Bruderhof, and the community hired Sergei to help
clear the jungle.
Although Sergei lived by himself and was quiet by nature, he was well liked by the members of the Bruderhof.
Papa, especially, had a good relationship with him. I, too, liked Sergei, as did all the other children, because he
would purchase candy at the Mennonite village store and distribute it among all of us. However, because of the
language problem, we weren't able to talk with Sergei, but in spite of that difficulty, there was an obvious affection
between Sergei and us kids. Papa and Sergei, though, could communicate quite well. They mixed up German and
Russian and got their ideas across.
Sergei liked to fish in the nearby Tapiracuay river and could always land a lot of fish. I was especially impressed
by his real nylon fishing lines and genuine hooks. We had to rely on cotton string and makeshift hooks. Sergei's
other passion apart from fishing was a butterfly collection he had amassed. That collection was probably his most
prized possession.
In the early 1950s — I think I was about eleven or twelve at the time — there was a lightning strike in Ibaté right
next to Sergei's house. The lightning caused a tremendous boom. I had never heard such a loud noise, louder than
any thunder. I have heard sonic booms from jet planes which might come close, but that thunderous boom was
frightening! The ensuing pandemonium was frightening as well.
There were cowboys several miles away who saw the lightning, and rode their horses toward the impact site.
Simultaneously, all the light bulbs in the village burst. I mean that every bulb really popped! The lady on nightwatch
was making her rounds, checking on the sleeping children. She had just put her hand on a light switch to turn lights
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on when the lightning struck. She was zapped! Although the surge knocked her out, she did survive, and though
shaken up, she was alright.
At the same time, Sergei's house caught fire. Papa was close by and heard Sergei screaming. Running to Sergei's
house, Papa helped Sergei save what he could. Sergei was hysterical, one of his guns went off, and saltpeter that
had been stored in the attic caught fire. In spite of Sergei's hysteria, Papa and Sergei hastily gathered guns and
furniture along with any pertinent articles they could save. Sadly though, Sergei's beloved butterfly collection, along
with many of the glass covered boxes, was destroyed in the inferno.
After the fire subsided, Papa heard Sergei crying and lamenting that God had to be mad at him, otherwise all the
things that occurred in his life would not have happened. But regardless of the many hardships that Sergei endured
during his lifetime, the love and support of those families closest surely must have been a source of great strength
to him, even after the lightning strike came crashing down.
A look at Shunning Practices in the Bruderhof in Comparison with Other Religious Groups
by Tim Johnson
The practice of “shunning” lingers in the memory of every reader of the KIT Newsletter. Over the years there have
been many references by KIT writers to their own experiences and those of others, and how it influenced their
personal lives both in the Bruderhof and subsequently. It’s a painful subject, and some have asked if there is really
more to be said? You be the judge!
As most KIT readers know, for more than twenty years there has been an active discussion group known as “The
Hummer.” One recurrent theme on the Hummer has been the practice of “shunning” in all its variations. Recent
discussions of this topic were triggered by television programs on such practices among North American Anabaptist
groups, and by an article brought to Hummer's attention by Ramon Sender. That article did not focus on religious
groups specifically, but it did address the role of gossip and social ostracism as tools of social control in general.
This led to extensive Hummer discussions about shunning and its intended and unintended consequences. Though
the Hummer discussions focussed mainly on the Bruderhof, the practices of Hutterite and other Anabaptist groups
were also considered.
Definitions of Shunning and Related Terms:
Though Hummer discussions included questions of whether religiously-based separation of individuals differs in
significant ways from non-religious segregation and discrimination, as in such matters as the ostracism of lepers,
or caste or racial discrimination, the main focus was on shunning of individuals or small subgroups by others with
whom they have been closely affiliated in a religious setting. Except for recognizing some similarities between
Anabaptist practices and the gradations of separation used in more mainstream churches such as excommunication,
our discussions concentrated on the phenomenon of some form of ritual separation from the main body of “the
Church.” This separation can range from minimal corrective temporary silencing to permanent expulsion or
excommunication. What, it was asked, was the origin of the practice variously described as “banning,” “shunning,”
“exclusion,” or of course, “Ausschluss,” as it was called in the Bruderhof?
We are grateful to all who shared their insights with us. The hope is that this initial article will not only interest
KIT readers, but might also trigger wider KIT discussions, and perhaps elicit additional perspectives, including those
of more recent leavers who may be able to offer insights into any changes in such practices in recent years.
The Bruderhof has not used the term “shunning,” preferring the German, “Ausschluss,” and its English
equivalent, “Exclusion.” These terms cover several levels of severity or degrees of separation from others in the
Community. Sometimes the boundaries between adjacent levels of exclusion were not sharply defined. The
consensus by knowledgeable discussants regarding the Bruderhof gradations, which differ from some of the other
groups, was that the least rigorous was “Schweigegebot,” which, loosely translated, means “imposed silence” on
the target of the discipline. This person was not to converse with others except as absolutely necessary, and could
not participate in prayers, but would usually continue to work at his or her usual tasks.
Next up in degree of severity was the “Kleiner Ausschluss,” or “small exclusion.” This involved more rigorous
silencing, and usually an assignment to work outside one’s usual duties, especially if these would routinely have
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involved any kind of supervisory tasks. While there were no “sentencing guidelines,” often two to four weeks would
find the offender back in the good graces of the Community.
The “Grosser Ausschluss,” or “great exclusion,” was substantially more serious, and typically lasted much longer.
At this level, all foregoing restrictions applied, but the excluded member would typically no longer live at home,
being relegated to a small exclusion site outside the “Hof,” with no family contact permitted, nor contact with any
members other than a Servant of the Word, or a designated “Witness Brother.” One might still work on the farm
or in the “shop,” but only in silence, and physically separate from others.
Most serious was the “Grosser Bann,” or “great ban,” for what were considered the most serious transgressions
against God and “the Church.” Adultery could invoke this penalty, but so could other serious infractions or repeated
infractions where previous resort to lesser penalties had not, in the judgment of the “United Brotherhood” (but in
reality usually just the “Servant” and a select circle of Witness Brothers), resulted in desired changes. In this
“Grosser Bann,” the transgressor typically had to leave the “Hof” for an extended period, leaving behind his family
and all social support, finding a job “outside” to support himself while he contemplated his sins. During this period,
his limited communications with the Bruderhof were mostly through the “Servant.”
Sometimes the great ban became a precursor to what other churches would call excommunication. While from
a doctrinal standpoint the possibility of personal redemption and a return to “the Church” was always open, the
reality was that such rigorous exclusion often preceded permanent estrangement from the Community.
I have intentionally referred to the banned individual as “he,” since the above descriptions applied most closely
to adult male members. Yet women were subject to similar degrees of church discipline, although it was sometimes
manifested differently. Further, the long-term exclusion of one spouse inevitably had enormous impact on the other,
on their children, and often on their family’s “standing” in the Community hierarchy. As we shall see, children were
far from immune to such “discipline” from quite early ages on. Among such young victims, for victims they were,
were several Hummers who recounted painful memories. These experiences, and the claimed justification by the
Bruderhof, will merit special attention, especially as they appear to have been qualitatively different from the
discipline meted out to children in other Anabaptist sects.
[More analysis of the Bruderhof “shunning” practices can be found in the two citations in the “Bibliography and
Endnotes” by Ben Zablocki and Julius Rubin.]
What are the Roots of “Shunning” or “Banning” in Anabaptist Congregations?
Human social groups have always been divided between “Us” and “Them.” Likewise, separation of the “chosen”
or “elect” from their un-chosen fellows has been a theme from at least Old Testament times on into the New
Testament and also the Koran. More than one Hummer pointed to New Testament sources like Matthew 18, and
passages in one of Paul’s Epistles, as the basis for church separation practices to maintain rigorous standards of
“belongingness” among true believers.
One contributor alerted me to the origins of “banning” within the Zurich-based Swiss Brethren during the critical
early 16
Century period of Anabaptist history as the likely basis for the variants of banning adopted by the
Hutterites, Mennonites and a little later, the Amish. This document, dated February 24, 1527, is referred to as the
“Schleitheim Pastoral Letter.” Apparently its “7 articles” were composed by “Brother Michael Sattler,” here
representing the deliberations of a group of the Swiss Brethren. (Sattler himself was martyred a few months later.)
The Letter appears to have been distributed among various leaders of Anabaptist congregations, including the Tyrol
group of Swiss Brethren, who when they migrated under pressure to Moravia a year later in1528 became known
as “Hutterites” after their pastor, Jakob Hutter. The first “article” dealt with Baptism. For us, the second is key, as
it dealt with exclusion, or Banning, in the Anabaptist church groups. (The source of this version is given in the
“Bibliography,” under “Schleitheim Pastoral Letter”):
“Second. We are agreed as follows on the ban: The ban shall be employed with all those who have given
themselves to the Lord, to walk in His commandments, and with all those who are baptized into the one body of
Christ and who are called brethren or sisters, and yet who slip sometimes and fall into error and sin, being
inadvertently overtaken. The same shall be admonished twice in secret and the third time openly disciplined or
banned according to the command of Christ. Mt. 18. But this shall be done according to the regulation of the Spirit
(Mt. 5) before the breaking of bread, so that we may break and eat one bread, with one mind and in one love, and
may drink of one cup.”
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It appears that this was the source document for subsequent shunning practices by several of the divergent
Anabaptist sects, including the Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and arguably ultimately also the Bruderhof,
especially from the early 1930s, when Eberhard Arnold allied the young Bruderhof with the long-established
Hutterites and their “Ordnungen,” which could be considered as their codes of conduct for maintaining church
integrity and unity. But as we shall see, the implementation of this discipline diverged in several ways from Hutterite
Before turning to the Bruderhof “shunning” practices, let me try to summarize what appear to be some
differences among major Anabaptist groups.
Some selected “other Anabaptist” perspectives and practices:
A Hutterite Perspective on Shunning (based on Mary Wipf correspondence with Ruth Lambach, used with
permission of both):
Mary Wipf points out that among Hutterites, just as within the Bruderhof, there are sometimes differences to be
resolved which fall short of requiring serious church discipline, and are often resolved amicably between the
disagreeing individuals or parties. These she refers to as “unzufrieden,” which may be translated as “discord.” This
level of disagreement usually does not escalate to formal church intervention, as in Auschluss, or its translation of
On Ausschluss, she summarizes the general Hutterite practice as follows:
“Step One: After the man has confessed of his sin against God and his fellow man, he says: “Ich bitt um ma
Shtroff.” (I ask for my punishment.)
“Step Two: The minister binds you over to the power of Satan and during this time you must do some soul
searching and struggling to figure out whether you really want to repent.
“Step Three: In the “old country” (Ukraine, before the 1874-77 exodus to the New World) there used to be a little
hut in the woods where people in Ausschluss were sent. But there were some suicides, so they quit that and kept
the people in the colony.
a. The man goes to live in his parents’ home during the time he is in Shtroff.
b. He works, but people do not speak to him nor does he speak to others unless it is absolutely necessary.
c. The man eats by himself in the bakery. He gets his own food and if he does not eat it all, he cannot even feed
it to the pigs.
d. In Church, the man will attend, but he will sit separately, either way at the back or in some ante-room where
he can hear the church service.
e. This period of Shtroff lasts usually about two weeks. In some of the colonies more closely associated with the
Bruderhof, this could be longer, sometimes for as long as six months.
“Step Four:
a. When the time is up and the man feels ready to be taken back into the ‘Gemeinde’, he goes to each of the
council members and asks for permission to be taken back. They listen to him and tell him that they will discuss
b. When the council members have discussed it and agreed to take the man back, because his repentance is
sincere, they will bring him in front of the baptized congregation at an evening service.
1. The minister will lay his hands on the man;
2. the repentant sinner will shake hands with each of the baptized members present.
Everybody is sympathetic.
This is not a hate filled shunning.
The Ausschluss serves it purpose in restoring the man to his place within the colony.
Nobody mentions it again.”
In complementing Mary Wipf’s comments, and highlighting the differences between Forest River Hutterite and
later Forest River Bruderhof practices regarding discipline applied to baptized members and unbaptized children,
Ruth Lambach observes:
"My experience with ostracism or shunning at the Forest River Hutterite Colony (related to) baptized adults only.
(I recall that) for a couple weeks two unmarried men ate separately and sat separately in church. We children we
were in awe of this discipline, and kept our distance from them during their Shtroff (punishment). Within a short
time after this shunning, both these men got married in a big double wedding celebration, confirming that they were
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now fully restored and taken back into the Community to start their family lives. Only later, when the Bruderhof
was at Forest River, was this kind of separation imposed on children. As Hutterites, we had never heard of this
practice being applied to children.”
Notes on some Mennonite Subgroups’ Shunning Practices (Katie Funk Wiebe, Wichita, Kansas, February 24,
2014, and excerpts from more extensive reflections, transmitted with her permission for use by Ruth Lambach).:
These observations begin with historical notes on one conservative “Russian Mennonite” subgroup, starting with
their eastern European forebears, followed by more personal reminiscences and comments by the well recognized
Mennonite writer, Katie Funk Wiebe on other conservative “offspring” congregations.
“The practice of the ban (avoidance, setting aside, excommunication) has a long history for the Russian
Mennonites. The main body practiced the "ban" as enforced by the elders, who also sometimes happened to be the
civic leaders of these self-contained Mennonite villages.
“To be banned in a Mennonite community was problematic for the Mennonite colonists in South Russia because
the Russian government required membership in a Mennonite church to maintain civic privileges, including not
having to take up arms in time of war. Furthermore, banning could mean economic ruin if the person was a local
business person. Who was left to shop at his store if all the villagers were Mennonites of one church?
“The matter of what to do when members overstepped behavioral boundaries was a big concern for the
Mennonites in Russia. At first, excommunication was done only by the elders. History shows that some “sinners”
were imprisoned and sentenced to hard labor, even whipped. The most severe form of banning was with the ‘raised
fist’. Over time, the responsibility to discipline and ban members was changed and became the responsibility of the
entire congregation.
Mennonite Brethren practised excommunication from the beginning of the Church in 1860 in Russia and later
in Canada. Mennonite Brethren began when a group seceded from the ‘mother’ Church (and) were then
excommunicated from it. Mennonite Brethren saw Church discipline as biblical and necessary to keep the Church
pure, according to 1 Thess. 3:14-15.
“In 1920, my father, living in Russia at the time, had been converted and joined the Mennonite Brethren Church;
subsequently, he was excommunicated from the Mennonite Brethren Church for marrying my mother, a member
of the Allianz Church, also a converted believer and also baptized by immersion – an important detail for Mennonite
Brethren. I have described his experience somewhere in some book.
“I never actually saw what excommunication was like at close hand until I was newly married, living in Yarrow,
B.C., a solidly Mennonite Brethren Community. I have described this experience in my book, “You Never Gave
Me a Name”:
“I attended congregational meetings but sometimes came away perplexed, not understanding why this church
body made the strange decisions I had just witnessed. One evening, the congregation disciplined a father of a large
family who refused to pay the levy for the local Church sponsored high school. He said he couldn’t pay. His large
family required all his income. The solemn men in black suits up front said he had to pay – borrow the money,
skimp even more, but pay. This new private high school had become a bigger financial burden on the congregation
than planned. Everyone was expected to contribute to keep it solvent. It did eventually fold, but this was in its
beginning stages. The legalistic harshness of these Russlaender frightened me, as it would again and again, later on,
in other congregations.”
“I admit I was naive and knew too little about church polity and governance at the time. Yet I could see no gross
moral lapse in the man’s actions. However, I had missed the point. Years later, Ted Regehr, historian, writes in A
Generation of Vigilance about this episode and similar ones. The man’s sin was pulling apart from the body. Regehr
writes that all members were expected to ‘honor all decisions made by the congregation, whether or not they were
in agreement’. It was the duty of each member to make the payment and the duty of the church ‘to compel those
who failed to comply’.
“Over the decades, while living in Canada, I understand that avoidance of the marriage bed was never enforced.
I heard of people who were excommunicated for smoking, cutting their hair (women), marriage outside the
Mennonite Brethren church, including marriage to another Mennonite, especially one that did not practice baptism
by immersion, joining combatant units in the military, and sexual irregularities, including copulating with a sheep!
The issue was forfeiting the privilege of being a member of the body of Christ and being able to participate in the
Lord’s Supper. This is the issue in Catholic churches.
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“Here, in the United States, during the years I attended a Mennonite Brethren church, I heard of only a few cases
of “church discipline,” or of “setting people aside,” never excommunication.”
“Clarence Hiebert, Bible professor at Tabor College, wrote his PhD dissertation on the Holdeman Church
(Church of God in Christ, Mennonite). He mentioned often that they used shunning as a means of discipline and
that about eighty-five percent of those who were shunned returned to the church.
“Holdemans practised shunning,” Dr. Allan Hiebert, retired chemistry professor, told me several times. His whole
family, with the exception of two older sisters, had been excommunicated and shunned over the issue of education.
His parents believed in high school education for their children, forbidden by the church:
“I remember Allan telling me that when the family got together, his mother set a table about an inch away from
the main table for his older sisters who hadn’t been excommunicated. This way they obeyed the letter of the law!
I ate many a wonderful Sunday dinner at his parents’ home. They belonged to the Parkview Mennonite Brethren
Church and retained some of their conservative style of living but never returned to the Holdeman Church.
“My plumber, an ex-Holdeman, lived across the street from me. He loved to talk, especially about being
excommunicated and shunned. It was still painful to him... I remember him telling me about the morning after the
church excommunicated him: his mother placed a small table in the corner of the kitchen where he ate his meals
from then on. He never returned to the church.
“Two observations: Fortunately, over the years, the Church has at times shone like a star, brilliant in all its glory.
Unfortunately, the practice of excommunication has also at times opened the door to the abuse of power, especially
if the leader was authoritarian and overly zealous for what he perceived to be the leading of God. I use the pronoun
“he” deliberately because, in my experience, women were never leaders. Though people were banned in love with
the purpose of correction, it was also too often a way to control others.
“Secondly, in this day, the concept of the church as Christ’s body of believers, committed to God and to one
another, has been lost. This is unfortunate. Nowadays people move their membership from one church to another,
one denomination to another, and even one religion to another, whereas at one time if you had been
excommunicated, this was impossible. Is this a better time? Debatable.”
A “Case Study” of a Shunning Within the Stoll Amish Subgroup in Maine, as summarized by George Maendel:
“It seems to me that as soon as an Amish Community (a congregation or an association of congregations) feels itself
secure in numbers (enough people so that young adults can find someone to marry) then they will take strong
positions of their own, without following any particular Amish faction. A charismatic leader emerges and before
long there is a new division of Amish. That is how the so-called Stoll Amish came to be, organized around the
teachings and writings of Elmo Stoll, of Kentucky, who died in 1996. Elmo envisioned Amish Intentional
Communities, with All Things In Common, but the communities he started did not long survive. The older Amish
"Operating System" was the default choice for the Stoll communal congregations he helped establish, including the
Amish here, who are descendants of Elmo's group. They are seen as more progressive than some, but remain
paternalistic and authoritarian. They also practice shunning to deal with perceived threats.
“We have been observing the effects of shunning. In the local Amish community and the practice is sad and
wrong, in most cases. For instance, when an Amish person confesses to questioning the idea of God, he or she is
shunned, even if they continue to lead the same moral life they had been doing when they believed in the Amish
concept of God. This is illustrated by part of a letter a local Amish man wrote to his wife, explaining his personal
decisions after enduring six months of shunning here at the Unity Amish congregation. His wife and children were
(are) forced to shun him, if not within their own home, definitely at Church and at the meal they always have after
church. His daughter married in the church this past summer and he had to sit separately when his family gathered
at a table in the church after the wedding. His crime was to announce that he no longer believed in God. Kenneth
is shunned, not for any change in his day to day behavior, but due to the fact that he has confessed to entertaining
new ideas. He has put aside the entire story given him about the nature of our being here. (To others, this might be
called achieving maturity!).”
George adds further comments, echoed by more than one Hummer, regarding the negative aspects of shunning
within religious bodies, and it is with these observations that we’ll close this section.
“Shunning is the practice of estrangement. And it is a teaching of The Bible, just as condemnation of
homosexuality is a teaching of The Bible. For those who consider The Bible to be the unalterable, inspired, Holy
Word of God, there is no escaping the fact: you are commanded to shun people for a variety of reasons. But if you
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live this way, by the rule of law, you have a diminished life. And The Spirit never comes to you with anything worth
hearing, worth seeing or doing. If we were meant to live by rules and laws, Jesus would have issued a rule book.
After all, what could be simpler? To live by rules, no matter how honored and revered, is to miss the entire point
of Christian teaching, which is to live according to The Spirit which awakens in us when we live so as to allow
awakening. The practice of shunning is very simply “nicht Christlich!” Jesus, as we read about him, did the very
opposite. And for good reason.”
Exclusion in the Bruderhof: A More Pernicious Variant?
Any discussion of exclusion as practised by the Bruderhof must start with the recognition that actual exercise of this
form of church discipline varied substantially according to time and place since the Bruderhof’s 1920 origins.
Extensive analyses of some of these variations are included in the references by Zablocki and Rubin, noted in the
bibliography. For our purposes, it suffices to note that although the phenomenon of shunning, or Ausschluss, has
been a constant presence for the control of both adults and children, the Bruderhof as an institution or as a particular
“Hof” has also experienced major upheavals in which substantial proportions of the group found themselves on the
receiving end of this discipline.Among such paroxysms we will only note the early Primavera crisis which started
in 1941, the Wheathill crisis of early 1948, and the series of crises between 1955 and 1962, which arguably represent
the darkest chapter in Bruderhof history. These began with the Hutterite/Bruderhof contretemps of 1955-57, and
culminated in the massive upheaval through which all South American communities, along with the German Sinntal,
and English Wheathill, and later Bulstrode Bruderhofs, were all closed, and well more than half of the membership
was excluded, uprooted, relocated, and ultimately in many cases abandoned by the reconstituted Bruderhof. This
phenomenon went beyond the individual level of shunning which held a possibility of a return to grace, to various
forms of group shunning, and ultimately total exclusion.
These “collective” exclusions could become fodder for a future exploration of the nature of “group think” and
group exclusion, and how this differs from the more traditional individual focus of shunning as a tool for a
correction which also includes redemption. But we will not delve into this now, except to note that in all of these
“crisis” types of group shunning, children were more likely to be caught up in the maelstrom of their elders’ crisis
than in more normal circumstances when there tended to be clearer definitions of the nature of alleged
transgressions. Enormous and sometimes permanent damage was inflicted on adults and children alike. In some
cases, notably in the second year of the attempted union of Forest River with the Bruderhof, children also became
victims of the very different Hutterite approaches to handling issues with children, and those of both the old
Primavera/Wheathill Bruderhofers and a few of the more evangelical of the new Bruderhofers recruited into
Woodcrest, some of whom had been sent to Forest River.
In looking at the terms used to characterize shunning experiences by some who expressed their views or
recounted their experiences, we see such terms as “arbitrariness” of actions taken, and of not knowing the reasons
for punishment (“we didn’t know why!”). There was a strong sense by some that shunning, especially of children,
was a form of bullying – an arbitrary exercise of power. In the following excerpts we provide, in their own words
(but not necessarily with their names), some of the flavor of these experiences by people to whom events that often
occurred a half-century or more ago, are still too well and painfully remembered. Some – reflecting both on their
childhood and adult experiences – expressed a great sense of betrayal, where they had gone to what they felt were
trusted leaders to raise concerns or ask questions, and quickly found themselves, sometimes tongue-tied and crushed
by a self-feeding mini-mob mentality, brought before the entire congregation. The only way out was through
“confessions” of real, guessed at, or even purely imaginary transgressions, followed by the church discipline of
silencing and exclusion, and then the painful efforts to find just what needed to be said and done to climb back into
the communal nest. While the relief and comfort of an “all is now behind us” forgiveness and return was often
shared by the returned “prodigal” with those to whom he’d returned, there is little doubt it also served as a warning,
and maybe prompted a fervent silent prayer by both to avoid being the next recipient of “church discipline!”
The long reach of Memory: Bruderhof Shunning, a Family Experience, not easily forgotten!
The main focus of “Church Discipline” in the Anabaptist groups described has been on the use of “shunning,” in
keeping baptized members “in unity” with the church in which they made their adult baptismal vows. In the groups
described above, the rigorous exercise of discipline has fallen mainly on adults, who in their baptismal vows have
in essence sublimated their own autonomy for “unity” with the church, including the acceptance of group discipline
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for perceived transgressions. Since an underlying tenet of adult baptism is that there must be a conscious decision
to accept the beliefs of the church, with all it entails, how should children – and those who have not made that
deliberate choice – be disciplined and kept on the “straight and narrow” paths to which they have not yet committed
themselves? Further, as noted, exclusion, even when targeting one individual, has inevitable spillover effects on
spouses and other family members, including children. These effects can be traumatic and long-lasting.
In a short review of some of these long-lasting effects, we will present a few comments about some of the
shunning practices, and allow respondents through their own words, or through paraphrasing of parallel
observations, to give a flavor of the discussions.
We start with an eloquent and fairly comprehensive set of comments by a Bruderhof leaver reflecting on her
memories about her family’s very difficult experiences during several years at Wheathill, and their after-effects.
“I think that there are many views on shunning, and each one of us probably has a different understanding of
what it is, but in my opinion, the Bruderhof practice of ‘ausschlussing’ was always harmful, especially for children.
It did so much damage.” She continues that, as “others have said, the harm was often permanent. I'm not sure what
it was called, but children were sometimes taken from their families and put into other families for a period of time.
The children never knew why it was happening; they just accepted that they had done something wrong, according
to the adults, and were being punished.
“Children were also punished by being excluded from school. Did we call this Ausschluss? I don't think this form
of punishment was ever given a name. I never heard it called anything. I don't think we even talked about this dark
side of life, we just knew it happened. The child would not be allowed to play with their friends, and their friends
weren't allowed to speak to them. A child as young as eight years or even younger was sent to work in a department,
such as the laundry, for months, then when they came back to school, they had to say sorry for what they had done
in front of the whole school.
This happened to at least one eight-year-old child who had been sexually abused by an adult. Another ten-year-
old had a similar experience, but while still in this state of Ausschluss, the family was sent away, so that child never
got to speak to his friends again.” She goes on to observe, “adult ‘ausschlussing’ not only punished the
"wrongdoer", it punished the whole family, especially the children. Like many others, our family experienced our
dad being sent away (for three very long periods), the last time because he refused to admit to something he had not
done (according to what (names withheld, but two senior members) told me later. Once someone had a reputation
for doing something wrong, even if they were allowed back, they were never really forgiven, and were always in
danger of being accused again because everyone in the Brotherhood knew what crime they were supposed to have
She notes some of the inconsistent applications of “discipline,” mentioning a case in which “a paedophile would
serve his year, and would be welcomed back with open arms time and time again, and it seems that no one apart
from the few elite (and his direct victims) knew anything about his misdemeanors. Shunning...was another form of
"Church discipline" applied to people – no names mentioned – who were, for example, reported for inappropriate
behavior (such as inappropriate touching and fondling) of “young girls. We were just told not to speak to them for
a few weeks or months, and then it was over. We usually knew why they were shunned in those cases. There was
no sense or balance to any of it. Crazy!!!”
She further comments that, “a form of shunning is mentioned in the Bible; however, it was only for the very
worst offences (eg. a son having an affair with his mother), and then only if the offender refused to repent and stop
the wrongdoing. By wrongdoing I refer to such things as Adultery, Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, Stealing, and
such like, where, in a so called "Christian Community," [a form of shunning] would be necessary in order to keep
some form of order, the alternative being a dramatic decline in moral standards or some sort of anarchy, I guess.
But separating the person from their family and sending them away for extended periods of time is a matter for the
law and courts (prison), and should never be practised in a loving ‘Christian Community’.”
There was considerable Hummer discussion of the differences between Hutterite and other Anabaptist and
Bruderhof reactions to childhood transgressions. The weight of evidence suggests that the Bruderhof tended to
employ tactics as degrees of shunning which were more severe and more psychologically damaging to children than
the Hutterite responses to such misbehavior, as Ruth Lambach has already noted, although the latter were more
likely to employ corporal punishment.
A follow-up comment gives a little of the flavor of the discussion: “The Hutterites seem to have got it right to
a degree, so Ruth, your view is bound to differ from those [who grew up in] the Bruderhof, whose members
The Keep In Touch Newsletter Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
constantly screwed up with their warped sense of justice and their hunger for cruelty, and it was usually the children
and youths who suffered most, but many of the adults suffered too, and probably still do. I expect my views to differ
from others too, so feel free to disagree!” – Some did, in part, though not on the essential validity of the
There was some discussion of parallels between what many non-Bruderhof children also receive as treatment
from their peers and from adults which can sometimes also take the form of shunning and bullying, and whether
there is a clear quantitative and qualitative difference. These childhood experiences can also affect adult work
situations outside the Bruderhof.
That some of the Bruderhof practices undermined feelings of worth and self-esteem for many children has been
documented elsewhere, but one observation is captured by the following comment:
“...I think one legacy for me of being officially shunned as a child has been that emotionally I have reacted to
the sorts of work situations (name withheld) describes as though I was being 'shunned'. I think another potentially
damaging legacy for people who leave the Bruderhof is the concept of 'self-exclusion' which I gather has become
(the Bruderhof’s) preferred model in more recent years.”
How does a young child – confused about adult allegations of wrongdoing, where the precise nature of the
infraction was not spelt out – learn to react to such situations? Another leaver captures well the somewhat
Kafkaesque and almost “Catch 22” uncertainties, and also the adaptive responses by victims, in this piece, which
is followed by corroborative comments by another leaver.
“For children, the correct responses were pretty much, ‘Yes I did it’ (whether or not you had been told or knew
what ‘it’ was), and, ‘I am sorry for what I have done; I will never do it again,’ (again whether or not you had been
told or knew what), and once ‘exclusion’ time had run the required length, the statement had to be repeated in front
of the whole school.
“What got me was that adults would say [to the child] things like: ‘Look at me; I will know if you are lying,’ yet
they never picked up that [your] admitting to stuff you hadn’t done was lying. The usual phrase when put into
exclusion as a child was: ‘You will not talk to anyone, you will not return to family or school until you admit what
you have done.’ The only time anyone spoke to you was to ask: ‘Are you going to tell the truth now? Did you do
it?’ I must admit I was not a fast learner. I believed in telling the truth. I repeatedly, stubbornly, refused to admit
for a while (days, even weeks), before giving in and whispering the required admission. I remember exactly where
I was when I admitted lies on the first two occasions, and with whom; after that, I suppose the guilt switched off,
became numb.”
Another responded to this with: “'s amazing how familiar your words are; they must ring true to so many ex-
Bruderhofers. It never ceases to fill me with wonder at their skill in using mind games. Where did they learn these
skills? Who taught them how to be so effective? Where did it come from? Your comment about being a slow
learner, sadly, also is an important point to recognize. I think some of us were faster learners than others, or maybe
less honest.
“I learnt very quickly how to lie in order to avoid many hours of interrogations and isolation, but I learned the
hard way. Yes, I quickly learnt that you got punished either way, so you might as well get it over with. I reasoned
that it was best to say, "I did it", if they said I had done it, even when I hadn't done it. That made me a liar, but it
made them happy. That was being a survivalist. The stubborn, honest, unbendable children suffered the most.”
One Hummer respondent, picking up on the theme of the “learnt responses” that might mitigate the severity of
adult reactions, including various levels of exclusion, ruefully recounted his family’s experience as newcomers to
the Bruderhof in the mid-1950s:
“In discussions with Dad and to some extent Mom, as ‘outsiders’, and their lack of the nuances of ‘Community
speak,’ they were not clear about what was expected and what words were to be used in order to get back in. In the
early 1990s, I communicated with some of the Servants ‘handling’ my parents, and all indicated a difficulty
communicating the nuances and ‘understood’ phrasing. An example is the "It is understood that...", or, "It is felt...",
and the no-no of using direct personal feelings. To me, the use of shunning by the adult community was a very
subtle way of finding out who would rock the boat and who would meekly acquiesce to the ‘guidance’ of the
This elicited the following empathetic response from another person, who also mentioned the very real threat and
fear that the misbehavior by children (as perceived by those in charge) could lead to disciplinary admonitions, and
The Keep In Touch Newsletter Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
sometimes even exclusion, of the parents: “...being in the know, or ‘speaking the speak’, was apparently an essential
survival skill. Unless you knew the right words to say, you (might)… never be acceptable, or accepted back.
“As for identifying the rebels, that was my father's problem. He refused to go along with the Brotherhood on
principles he did not agree with. Like [unnamed, but actually true for several families,] in the end, he and his family
were sent away because of his unruly kids. He refused to follow orders to bully his kids. So thankfully the whole
family was banished into the outside world.”
This “thankfully” perspective often took some years to develop, since, as was also observed for various “leaver”
or “excluded” settings: “The...problem with that was, [some leavers] were still so hooked into ‘the way of life’ and
so desperately wanted to be back with their family, and be accepted by their friends, that they couldn't really enjoy
their freedom.”
Some children, when a parent was shunned or “banned” for extensive periods, reportedly felt a personal sense
of shame, even after the parent (or parents) returned. In the memory of most who recalled their own childhood
shunning, however, they did not feel such intense shame, and realized that other children had some sympathy,
having experienced some of this often seemingly arbitrary punishment themselves. One reports:
“One thing that always surprised me a bit, looking back: in my experience, there was no shunning or cruelty
shown towards children returning from exclusions, or towards children whose parents were suffering exclusion. I
personally always felt welcomed back by my friends after I had suffered a session of exclusion.” She also notes,
as an aside, that children – who were recognized by other children as “different” due to for example congenital or
hereditary conditions, or degenerative ailments – were seen by other children as generally “loved” and somehow
Some Concluding Comments, Inviting Further KIT Discussion:
The foregoing discussion is wide-ranging yet very incomplete. My hope is that it will serve, not to reignite painful
memories, but to share common experiences, and perhaps even to heal, in reminding readers that perhaps they really
were not as alone in some of their personal “dark nights of the soul.” At the same time it may also help some to see
that the Bruderhof, important as it was to many of us as “our world,” was in reality only a small backwater in the
larger stream of human society, and its problems were not unique. Where the Bruderhof has failed, so have other
social groups. One contributor commented:
“The crime of the Bruderhof is not that they are worse than the rest of the world; their crime is that they are no
Another contributor noted: “...shunning brings up the whole idea of group values...and how one achieves ‘status',
and the traps of ‘group-think’.”
Ruth Lambach, whose communitarian family background included Mennonite, Hutterite, and Bruderhof periods,
notes: “We ex-communitarians have experienced firsthand the effects of living in a “1984” (George Orwell) society
where language is misused and abused and mislabeled.” Can our particular perspectives perhaps help us, and
through us maybe others, address such questions as, “How does a group practice forgiveness,” and what does that
mean, especially when groups are not homogenous bodies, with identical status among its members, but rather, as
she noted, in channelling George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “Animal Farm:” “Some pigs are more equal than
For now, KIT readers are invited to share their own perspectives, beyond the question of “shunning,” on how
reflections on their Bruderhof pasts, both positive and negative, have influenced their subsequent journeys through
Tim Johnson, March 2014
Bibliography and Endnotes:
Rob Willer, Matthew Feinberg, Michael Schultz, Assoc. for Psychological Sciences 1/27/2014 “Gossip, ostracism
may have hidden group benefits” -- ScienceDaily
ed%3A+sciencedaily+%28… ½
Julius H. Rubin, The Other Side of Joy, Oxford University Press, 2000 (see particularly p. 66-67, and 132-133).
Benjamin Zablocki, The Joyful Community, 1971, Penguin edition (paperback), see esp. 271-2
The Keep In Touch Newsletter Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
“Schleitheim” Pastoral Letter of the Swiss Brethren, dated Feb. 24, 1527, cited in Mennonite Quarterly Review
XIX (Oct. 1945) p. 247-253. Second “article” (of 7) is the basis for “the ban.” (No author given, but this “Letter”
is believed to have been composed by Brother Michael Sattler).
Note: I am grateful to those, named and unnamed, who contributed as “shadow authors” to this report. Where
names have been used, it is with the permission of those individuals. In cases where contributors were willing to
have their thoughts used, but not their names, I have honored those requests. In several instances I have combined
similar thoughts, originating from more than one contributor, into composite descriptions of shunning-associated
behavior. I take full responsibility for the overall effort to pull together these thoughts into a review paper which
I hope will be useful to former Bruderhofers and to others concerned with real life experiences and consequences
of the types of “discipline” discussed here.
TJ (March 15, 2014)
Remembering Joan Fischer:
Martina Fischer writes:
I just wanted to let you know on behalf of the Fischers in Paraguay, that Joan Fischer (Kulla's wife) passed away
in hospital on Friday, 29 November 2013, at 17:30h Paraguayan time, following a severe worsening of her illness.
Serena (daughter of Kulla and Joan) let me know that her mother passed away peacefully.
For a long time, Joan took care of Cyril and Margot Davies until she herself had to travel to England to care for
her own mother. She also used to assist Cyril as receptionist at his small home practice in Minga Guazú during
surgery hours.
In loving memory of Heinrich Otto Pleil
In an email of 20 January 2014, Nadine Pleil writes:
My brother-in-law Carlos Pleil, who lives in Florida, phoned me today to let me know that August's brother
Heinrich Otto has passed away.
Heinrich Otto Pleil, named after his father, was born in Paraguay on 18 February 1941 in Rosario Loma,
Departamento de San Pedro. He was the seventh child of the nine children born to Otto and Dora Pleil.
Heinrich was with us in El Arado, Uruguay. There, he was able to get to know and bond with his oldest brother
August. In spite of the fifteen years difference in age, August and Heinrich were able to grow very close to each
After leaving the Bruderhof, Heinrich moved to Colombia, where he resided at the time of his death.
Heinrich had suffered for a number of years from kidney disease and stomach ulcers. He was in and out of
hospital many times. Finally he had to go into hospital again. There, the doctors decided that he should be
transferred to a hospital in the capital Bogotá, where they would be able to better address his problems. Before they
could transfer him, he passed away.
Now, three of the nine Pleil children have passed away. This fills my heart with great sadness. However, Heinrich
has been released of his suffering.
The Keep In Touch Newsletter Volume XXVI No. 1 – April 2014
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