The officer curtly informed them during an earlier raid on their community:
If some crackpots want to live together and preach to one another, that is their business. But there is to be no propaganda. And the children are not to be brought up this way.
The nearly 160 armed men with him were the promise that his words were no idle threat. They left with the grim warning of things to come: “It would be good if you all just left the country.”
The members huddled together for comfort, talked, prayed, and gathered, not certain what to do. To be alive at a time such as this!
Six weeks later, official notice came they could no longer operate a private school for their children. Never would they allow their precious children to be educated by the State! Certainly not a State such as this. Whatever could they do?
Very shortly, they were told, they would receive clear direction about their children attending public school. What would the inoffensive little community do? Immediately realizing the threat…
A very strange sound greeted everyone just four days after the ominous letter came annulling their private school. It came just five days before their children were to start public school. Sound? Rather, an absence of sound…there were no children in the large community house! They were all gone.
A handshake through time
Obviously, this is not our story, although in many ways it could be. Then, as now, the real issue for the German government is total control of the schooling of German children. The future is in their hands — and no one else’s. Then, as now, doing anything out of the ordinary is to risk having your children taken away. The harsh official quoted about was not a Jugendamt (Youth Office) official, but a high-ranking member of the Gestapo, speaking to the members of the Rhön Bruderhof. They were a Christian community headed by Eberhard Arnold.
The day was November 16, 1933. Four days earlier the national plebiscite endorsing the Nazi program for a greater Germany had been held. Their lack of enthusiasm had been duly noted. They became a marked people.
Children who fled the Rhön Bruderhof to Switzerland before the authorities came.
By January 3, 1934, the house was empty of children. A little over a year later their young men had to flee the country to avoid universal conscription into the Wehrmacht, the German army. There was talk of the death penalty for those who resisted. A little over two years later, on April 14, 1937, yet another raid brought the Gestapo to the Bruderhof again. This time the announcement was simpler: the community is dissolved and all its property confiscated.
Is it not the same today as then: “the children are not to be brought up this way”? Would not the Gestapo and the Jugendamt shake hands over the actions taken against both communities — the Rhön Bruderhof and Klosterzimmern — if their handshake could but reach through time?
Are we saying that the Jugendamt and the Gestapo espouse the same values? For now that is a matter of opinion or viewpoint, but this we can say with confidence: values change, but the spirit remains the same. And the spirit is what matters.
The spirit of a man, even an organization, may be compared with the wind filling the sails of a ship. Though an organization may have a new “crew” and a new “mission” (new personnel and new values), the wind keeps driving it the same way. That is, the ship and its crew keep doing the same things. This betrays the underlying unity of purpose and spirit. From 1933 to 2013 is a long time, but the spirit remains the same.
They were wiser than we?
When our authority to operate a private school, guaranteed in the Constitution (Basic Law) of Germany was taken away, we stayed in Germany. Were we naive? Foolish? Maybe.
We assumed the differences could be worked out. The school officials and the Youth Office knew well how well our children had been educated by us, their parents. Our school was visited more, and to more satisfaction, than any school in Germany. On a Quali several years ago, our youth scored higher than the Bavarian average and had the highest average in our county. (Quali is short for the Qualification Exam given to students after the basic nine years of education are finished.)
Knowing these things we should have taken warning when our permission was revoked. We did not know of the Bruderhof’s painful history then. Many things are clearer in hindsight. Now we have our own pain and loss to face. There was no apology on the part of Germany’s socialist government then. It would not be until November 6, 1951, that a German court would grant them compensation for their loss, which ruled in these stirring words that what happened to them was persecution for their faith, which stood in irreconcilable opposition to the principles of National Socialism.
“This court has no reservation in recognizing that the Rhon Bruderhof was persecuted by National Socialism because of its world view [Weltanschauung]. This came about not only because of the attitude of the Bruderhof in regards to military service, but because their Christian and humanitarian principles stood in irreconcilable opposition to National Socialism. That the government agencies of the Third Reich should have tried to undermine the Bruderhof wherever they could is consistent with their approach to eradicate opponents. The dissolution of the Rhön Bruderhof under the Reich president’s order for the Protection of the Nation and State permits no doubt that this was active persecution in its full meaning as defined in the Persecution Act.”
Our belief in the teachings of the Bible stands in irreconcilable opposition to the claims of Germany’s current socialist government over men’s lives, souls, and families. Yes, names change, but the spirit remains the same.
All quotes and dates are taken from An Embassy Besieged — The Story of a Christian Community in Nazi Germany, by Emmy Barth, (Cascade Books, 2010). Quotes are on pages 102 and 280-1.