Torches Together: The Beginning and Early Years of the Bruderhof
Communities. 2nd edition, Rifton: Plough, 1971. Pp. 231.
Mow, Merrill, Torches Rekindled. Rifton: Plough, 1989.
Pp. 309. $14.50
Bohlden-Zumpe, Bette, Torches Extinguished. Carrier
Pigeon Press, 1993, Pp. 300. $15.00
The Society of Brothers, often also called the Bruderhof because
of its origin in Germany, next year can celebrate the 75th anniversary
of its founding by Eberhard Arnold. Arnold died in 1935 at the
age of only 52, possibly because a Nazi surgeon under orders
saw to it that Arnold never woke up from an operation for a gangrenous
broken leg. Perhaps because of Arnold's early death, but also
definitely because of the buffeting of circumstances -- escaping
to England from persecution in Nazi Germany, then, unwelcome
as Germans in England and forced to go to the primitive Paraguayan
Chaco -- the Society has lurched unsteadily from crisis to crisis.
Many of these crises revolved around the problem of leadership
The story of the Society has been told in several books. In
1964 Emmy Arnold, widow of founder Eberhard offered her version
of its history up to that time in Torches Together. Her
version came out of direct personal experience and focused upon
its earliest and most visionary years. In 1989 Merrill Mow, a
Church of the Brethren convert, presented an officially sanctioned
updated account, Torches Rekindled. It was calculated
to explain -- and to justify the outcome of -- the leadership
struggle and upheavals of 1959-1961, when Eberhard's son Heini
replaced Eberhard's son-in-law Hans Zumpe. In this struggle over
600 members of the community were purged in the exposure of Hans
Zumpe's adultery and the dissolution of the England and Paraguay
colonies in consequence of the establishment of the Wooderest
colony in New York State and the concentration of power there.
Mow's history prompted Bette Bohlken-Zumpe, daughter of Hans
Zumpe and granddaughter of founder Eberhard Arnold, to make what
she considers a much-needed corrective. Her book, being reviewed
here, is entitled Torches Extinguished (edited by Gertrude
Enders Huntington, and published by Carrier Pigeon Press, 1993).
The title obviously suggests that the early vision of the Society
has been lost. Bohlken-Zumpe resents what she considers her father's
portrayal as the essence of evil -- his adultery notwithstanding
-- and Heini's leadership as the triumph of righteousness.
Her story ends up more an autobiography than a history of
the Society, however. Even though she is an Eberhard Arnold granddaughter,
she was only a child during the Paraguay years and was not in
on the leadership struggles. Much of her account therefore is
about her relatively carefree growing up and later personal struggles
while away from the colony in going through nurses training in
England and America. Her rather intensely subjective description
of these years and her inner turmoil during that time does not
so much throw light on what was happening in the leadership power
struggle as it does on what trauma the Society kind of life had
on individuals subjected to an imposition of guilt feelings,
efforts at attitude control, and punitive measures used to attempt
to gain that control.
Bohlken-Zumpe by her own admission was very much torn between,
on the one hand, adoration of her uncle Heini and his efforts
to subject her will to the Society's control and, on the other
hand, growing outrage at the Society's hypocrisy and determination
to become her own person free of the Society's domination.
In all three books mentioned here some basic facts are clear.
At founder Eberhard's death his young son-in-law Hans Zumpe,
married to the oldest Arnold daughter Emi-Margret, was already
entrusted with much responsibility in the community, whether
because Eberhard found in him a capable and trustworthy assistant
or because the Arnold sons were too young at the time to be given
much responsibility. Eberhard is alleged to have said that in
the event of his death Zumpe should become leader and in due
time bring his sons into leadership responsibilities also.
It is not clear whether Zumpe arrogated to himself too much
power or misused his power as leader from 1935 to 1941 and during
the Emavera, Paraguay, years (1941-1959) and/or tried to keep
the Arnold sons out of power. Bohlken-Zumpe claims the sons engaged
in angry shouting at some Paraguay meetings, and it is a fact
that Heini was placed in "exclusion" for a considerable
period of time during the Paraguay years.
The Mow version of the Society's history depicts the victory
of Heini Arnold and Wooderest in the early '60s as the vindication
of what Eberhard-and the Spirit--intended: the restoration of
the right leadership and recovery of the original Eberhard Arnold
vision, hence the title Torches Rekindled. The Bohlken-Zumpe
version depicts the victory of her uncle Heini as a departure
into autocratic and even "cultic" rule. She claims
that the purge of over 600 members in the early l960s was Heini
Arnold's revenge against those who had endorsed his exclusion
in Paraguay and who were unwilling to do adequate repentance
Bohlken-Zumpe admits her own complicity in this retaliation
against some members at a time when her own standing in the Society
was precarious and she seemed to be trying to ingratiate herself
with her uncle's leadership. When one couple at Oak Lake "mentioned
that in 1944 there had been so much disunity, so much shouting
in the brotherhood (especially by the Arnold sons), that they
felt relieved when, after the Arnold exclusion, everything returned
to normal," Bohlken-Zumpe jumped up and shouted, "I
feel the coldness of your spirit filling this room and it makes
me shiver!" The next day the couple was asked to pack their
bags and leave.
The reader of Torches Extinguished is inclined at points
to sympathize with its author for unfortunate influences she
encountered in her growing up years in the Society. For example,
when she was only six and playing with another child, balancing
on some logs, some adult members of the Society made some ugly
accusations for which she was grilled by older women of the community.
"They questioned me and kept saying that it was better to
tell the truth right away.... I searched my mind to find something
they would want to hear. Finally, with a trembling voice I whispered...,
'We played soldiers.' That was the only thing a pacifist-educated
child could think of!
" 'No,' she said. 'No, that is not what you did. Now
for punishment you will have to sleep outside and go to bed without
food....' Next morning they started again, this time hitting
me on my legs with very thin sticks,... repeating over and over
again that I should tell the truth." Finding a moment to
consult with her playmate, she asked, " 'What do they want
to hear?' 'It's easy,' she said. 'Just tell them that we looked
at each others bottoms."'
"So I promptly confessed to something that we never did,
never thought of and did not even think an interesting thing
to do! So we were excluded from the other children for ten days
and worked in the laundry. We were both six years old."
At one point the reader is inclined to raise some questions
about Bohlken-Zumpe's description of another personal experience,
this one while in nurses training in New York. She claims, "At
a hospital party they served a lot of punch, and I did not realize
how much alcohol was in it. I had never had -- or even like --
alcoholic drinks. But the punch was good, very sweet, and I drank
it like lemonade. I became drunk and was raped by a young doctor."
One wonders whether the author should not accept a little more
responsibility for this incident, even though, as she claims,
she had received a far too inadequate sexual education in the
It turned out to be one of the things the community put her
into exclusion for, though other issues such as her attitude
entered into the picture. For nearly a year at one point she
was isolated by the community, made to live by herself in a cabin
at the edge of the colony and given the job of cleaning the colony
toilets day after day. She confesses that at this point in her
life she still had feelings of loyalty to her uncle Heini and
struggled to subject herself to the will of the community, and
to cultivate the desired attitude of penitence and self-abnegation.
Whether because she was an Arnold, or because of the persistence
of German romanticism and idealism in the community from its
German Youth Movement days, or because of the persistent emphasis
in the community on attitude and mind-control -- or all of the
above -- Bohlken-Zumpe exhibits a mercurial temperament and rides
a roller-coaster of moods throughout her youth. Even in her adult
life, after getting married to a Dutch man-apparently fairly
happily so -- she admits to a persisting love-hate feeling for
the community in which she grew up. She found a closeness and
security there she still misses but also a stifling suppression
of personal rights she is glad to have escaped.
In an appendix the author establishes to this reviewer's satisfaction
that Hans Zumpe attempted numerous times in 1960, following his
excommunication for adultery, to seek forgiveness and reconciliation
with his wife, but community censorship intercepted the letters.
His wife never received them. Bohlken-Zumpe claims that her uncle
Heini decided that her father should never be allowed back into
the community and given even a chance to challenge Heini Arnold's
leadership. According to the author, Heini was afraid that his
own power and control might be dislodged the way he and some
other dissidents, members at that time on the outs, had once
walked into a colony in England and taken it over in a coup.
Readers of the several histories of the Society have a right
to doubt if they will ever get an objective and unbiased factual
account of the Society, especially since so much of it hangs
upon "attitude"--whether this or that individual sufficiently
surrendered his or her will to the community, or showed the right
spirit in one or another crisis. So much seems to depend on who
was in power. Bohlken-Zumpe claims that "the Bruderhof worships
men to such a degree that God becomes smaller and smaller. The
Bible is not as important as the writings of their leaders. That
is what is known as A CULT."
Something seems to be fundamentally questionable and even
wrong in a movement in which 623 members were purged at one juncture,
many of whom were deeply and sincerely committed to life in the
brotherhood and wanted to, even begged, to stay in it. Something
seems wrong in a movement marked by a fruit basket upset round
of exclusion after exclusion of mature members and leaders, including
at one time even the elderly widow of founder Eberhard Arnold.
I am sure the present leaders of the Society are not happy
with Bohlken-Zumpe's book. Heini Arnold died in 1989, and his
son Christoph is now the Society's head. But then Bohlken-Zumpe
was not satisfied with Mow's book. We are justified in keeping
on the lookout for further information on the history of the
Society--and to watch with interest its future development.
-- Marlin Jeschke is retired from teaching at Goshen College
and is living in Berlin, Ohio.
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, July, 1995