‘Muted Voices’ conference recalls Hutterite martyrs

Memorial service at National World War I Museum recognizes conscientious objectors

Oct 23, 2017 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The tale of four Hutterite conscientious objectors who refused even to wear a military uniform, let alone serve in the U.S. Army during World War I, is well known in Hutterite colonies and many Anabaptist circles.

Their story was recounted in unprecedented and dramatic fashion in a far different setting Oct. 21 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

Two of the men, Joseph and Michael Hofer, ultimately died due to their refusal to kill based on Christian principles. Their descendants consider them martyrs.

Young people representing Hutterite, left, and Bruderhof communities lay flowers in remembrance of all who died out of conscience in World War I Oct. 22 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. The stone commissioned in remembrance of Joseph and Michael Hofer cites Luke 9:24, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” — Tim Huber/MWR

Young people representing Hutterite, left, and Bruderhof communities lay flowers in remembrance of all who died out of conscience in World War I Oct. 22 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. The stone commissioned in remembrance of Joseph and Michael Hofer cites Luke 9:24, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” — Tim Huber/MWR

“Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civil Liberties in World War I Through Today” took place at the museum Oct. 19-22.

Beyond religious objection, the conference covered diverse forms of dissent by women’s suffragists, socialists, populists, teachers and racial minorities, to name a few.

Conference organizer Andrew Bolton of the Community of Christ said he first read of the Hutterites’ experience in 1987 in England.

“That is the story that allowed this diverse coalition, secular and religious, all kinds of Anabaptists and those wonderful Quakers as well” to come together at this conference, he said. “This coalition has grown because of the story.”

Interspersed with a cappella singing by the combined youth choirs of Baker and Silverwinds Hutterite colonies in Manitoba, Hutterite educator and storyteller Dora Maendal and Goshen (Ind.) College communications professor Duane Stoltzfus recounted the four men’s objection at Camp Lewis in Washington, followed by ill treatment in military prisons.

After explaining their faith barred them from taking the life of another person or wearing the clothing of someone who does, the Hofers, their brother David and Jacob Wipf were each sentenced to 20 years’ hard labor at Alcatraz U.S. Military Prison in San Francisco.

“They developed a rash and couldn’t even fight off the insects because their hands were chained on the bars above their heads, so they were lifted on tiptoe,” said Maendal of the damp and cold dungeon that held them. “Sometimes they were beaten, and there is an account of Michael falling down unconscious at one point. The brothers felt this isolation very, very keenly.

“They were silent in their letters, except that they did not expect a good outcome.”

Dora Maendal of Fairholme (Man.) Hutterite Colony and Goshen (Ind.) College communication professor Duane Stoltzfus share the story of four Hutterite conscientious objectors Oct. 21 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. — Tim Huber/MWR

Dora Maendal of Fairholme (Man.) Hutterite Colony and Goshen (Ind.) College communication professor Duane Stoltzfus share the story of four Hutterite conscientious objectors Oct. 21 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. — Tim Huber/MWR

Stoltzfus said the small cells were in complete darkness, and workers left uniforms on the floor, which were untouched.

“The cumulative effect was a miscarriage of justice,” he said. “Four men who sought to neither harm nor injure anyone at any turn had ended up hanging in chains, a treatment that President Wilson himself would describe as barbarous or medieval.”

They eventually were transferred to Fort Leavenworth (Kan.) Disciplinary Barracks, where Joseph and Michael Hofer died from illnesses attributable to and worsened by their living conditions and treatment. Joseph’s wife, Maria, was warned by telegram that his days were numbered but arrived too late to say goodbye.

“She walked past the commander’s desk and found a coffin, opened the lid and found her husband dressed in the military uniform of the U.S. Army,” Maendal recalled. “ ‘You would insult my husband if you dress him in death in the uniform he refused to wear when he was alive,’ she said.”

Eighteen days after the Armistice was signed, he died on Nov. 29, 1918. His brother Michael died four days later, and brother David was released a day after that. Secretary of War Newton Baker ordered the release of 113 COs the following January, but Wipf wasn’t released until April.

By the time Wipf returned to South Dakota, many of the colonies had moved to Manitoba and Alberta. There were 18 colonies in South Dakota and Montana in 1918. By the spring of 1919, only seven remained.

Remembering all

On Sunday morning a memorial service was held in the museum to remember all who resisted, dissented and suffered in the war.

Taking place on a glass bridge above 9,000 poppies, each representing 1,000 lives lost during the war, conference attendees and visitors honored not just the Hutterite Hofers. The ecumenical service honored the thousands around the world — religious and secular — who out of conscience refused to fight in war.

A Hutterite woman takes a photo before a memorial service honoring conscientious objectors to World War I Oct. 22 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. — Tim Huber/MWR

A Hutterite woman takes a photo before a memorial service honoring conscientious objectors to World War I Oct. 22 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. — Tim Huber/MWR

As the 217-foot-tall Liberty Memorial tower loomed imposingly through skylights overhead, the Hutterite choir again sang gentle songs of Christian love and unity. In the shadow of the massive stone monument to service in war, a humbler stone was unveiled, commissioned to remember the faithfulness of Joseph and Michael Hofer, who paid the ultimate price for refusing to take another’s life.

“It is each generation’s sacred duty to ask, What does this mean?” said Ian Kleinsasser of Crystal Spring Colony in Manitoba. “Our purpose today is not to memorialize those who have endured great suffering on account of their faith but rather to raise stones of remembrance so the principles of nonviolence and peace can be passed on to future generations.”

The stone will join others of similar size and smaller in the memorial’s Walk of Honor outside the entrance. Conference organizer Andrew Bolton said there is a chance another stone honoring Mennonites who died at Fort Leavenworth could join it on International Conscientious Objection Day on May 15.

War’s numbers, names

  • During World War I, roughly 3 million men failed to register for the draft in the United States.
  • More than 300,000 who registered didn’t report for duty.
  • 3,090 conscientious objectors refused orders.
  • 596 conscientious objectors were held in detention at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
  • 504 conscientious objectors were court-martialed.
  • At least 29 conscientious objectors are known to have died in detention in the United States, often as a result of poor living conditions and diet, and hard labor in the disciplinary barracks.

COs deaths in Kansas

Some conscientious objectors who died at Fort Leavenworth have been identified:

  • John Bergen, Mennonite (1918)
  • Reuben Eash, Mennonite (1918)
  • Henry E. Franz, Mennonite (1918)
  • Charles W. Bolly, Brethren Church (1919)
  • Daniel B. Flory, Nondenominational Christian (1919)
  • William S. Gillmore, Nondenominational Christian (1919)
  • Joseph Hofer, Hutterite (1918)
  • Michael Hofer, Hutterite (1918)
  • Johannes M. Klassen, Mennonite (no date)
  • Samuel Mast, Amish (1918)
  • John Quiring, unknown (1918)
  • Walter Sprunger, Mennonite (1918)
  • Daniel Teuscher, Mennonite (1918)
  • Mark R. Thomas, International Bible Students Association (1918)
  • Ernest D. Wells, Christadelphian (1919)
  • Daniel S. Yoder, Mennonite (1919)

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  • Elizabeth Bohlken Zumpe

    It moved me deeply to read this Article: “Muted Voices” conference recalls Hutterite Martyrs.” My name is Elizabeth Bohlken – Zumpe . My Grandfather was Eberhard Arnold, a German Theologian, who was seeking to live a simple Christian life, according to the writings of the New Testament. He started a small “Gemeinde” Community in Germany 1920 and was amazed, to find old writings, on the Hutterian Bruderhofe, in the achieves of Berlin, that seemed to have lived together for several centuries, on the fundaments of the early Christian churches. He started writing to Elias Walter, of the Stand Off Bruderhof in Alberta 1927 and although the correspondence was slow, by sea-mail only, it was in 1930 -31 that E.A. was able to travel to America to see the Communities himself. The warmth and the simplicity of living together in love and harmony made him feel at home in the community at once. It was exactly, how he had envisaged a brotherly life of sharing and having all things in common. March 1931 Eberhard Arnold and the small group of members in Germany, joined all three of the the Hutterite – Communities and E.A. was entrusted with leading the Rhoen Bruderhof and teach them “the Lehr” that formed the unity in Christ. My Grandfather died the year I was born 1935, but it was my grandmother Emmy Arnold, who kept telling us children, all about the life he had seen, witnessed and told her about, amongst the Hutterian Colony’s of brothers and sisters.
    “Our” the German group of Hutterites, were to suffer throughout the future to come. Being persecuted by the German Hitler Regime, we had to flee into Liechtenstein and from there through Holland into England 1937. England did not want conscientious objectors and so again we had to leave 1940- 41 and found a stable place in Paraguay South – America. Being very isolated and poverty stricken, made the small group of some 450 souls, strong and united to stick together in good times and in bad times, believing in the leadership of God at all times! With much help from the Mennonites, who were our neighbors in Paraguay, we were able to build up three beautiful colonies called Primavera, where I grew up. I felt the love, trust, warmth and faith that seemed to make the impossible possible. We had a good school, library, hospital, farm and cattle, workshops and children departments and by 1950 were some 2000 people (many children) in the jungle.
    During the 1950ties many changes were made, mostly by brothers in the United States, and Primavera was closed and sold. It was a kind of End – Of – Our – Times atmosphere and fear! The “faith full” – according to the pastors -some 600 people- joining the “new Bruderhof of Woodrest N,Y”. and the English Bruderhof. The other 600 families with many children, were stranded and just left, to find a way back to their families in Europe. Years of absolut chaos followed. 1960 I too joined up at Woodcrest, but felt that during the chaos they had lost LOVE, as simple as that. Big words and no warm handshake of trust, faith and respect. It seemed that everyone was turning around their own little self in small and large circles, trying to find sin – that was not there. I had too many questions and was asked to leave, putting it nicely, rather than being kicked out. I was not aloud any contact with my family inside, was not informed of my grandmothers death. I went to Holland and live here with my family. 1985 I was allowed to see my mother, brothers and sisters at the Woodcrest Bruderhof one more time. It was then, that my mother told me this same Hutterite story.
    She was very moved about the 4 young Hutterite men, who so bravely stood by their belief and faith, that killing a man is against the Christian faith we stand for. She told me about Joseph and Michael Hofer and David and Jacob Wipf and their deep conviction of faith, which brought them to Alcatraz U.S. Military Prison and made them suffer indescribably for standing by their faith. It is just like the early Hutterites had to suffer in Austria, Germany, Ukraine, which lead them to Russia and later to Canada and the United States. She asked me to remember, that every man has two choices daily: to be positiv or negativ, do right or wrong, be loving or hurtful, listen to your inner voice or bravour it over with great noise! She told me about those 4 young men, to make me see, what is important in life and that the faithful silent sufferer is the strongest in the end. She was emotional telling me, how they died for their faith in horrible circumstances being firm and strong right up to the end. What shocked my mother was also, that this happened in the United States at the time, when American troops were trying to fight the evil of Nazi – Germany. The absolute disrespect and to lay their dead body’s into a coffin wearing American Soldiers uniforms, which they gave their lives for in Not wearing them!. My mother wanted me to remember for life, that man has the power to love, but also to hate, hurt and be cruel, What ever country German- English- Asian or Paraguyan – we have the power to love and respect or to disregard, hate and hurt others. The story of the 4 Hutterian brothers, who were faithful and willing, to take upon themselves “the cross” and die a lonesome death”, fully aware of God’s fatherly love and protection.
    Reading this today made me think of my mother,(eldest daughter of Eberhard Arnold) who died on the Bruderhof, but was not allowed to see us her children and grandchildren before she died.
    Hardness of heart can live and be found the most fundamental faith and religion, if there is no love!

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