Bruderhof (also called Haushaben) was the name for the community settlements of the Hutterites in Moravia and Slovakia, found today in similar fashion also in South Dakota and Canada. Since community of goods is one of the main principles of the Hutterian Brethren, it was quite natural that from the very beginning of their settlement in Moravia they established such "collective farms" (if it is permissible to use this modern term, forgetting for a moment the great difference in the ideology of Anabaptist communism and Soviet communism). The Bruderhofs were a unique undertaking without any model before them, yet highly successful and for that reason still today practiced among the Hutterian Brethren. These Bruderhofs were quite elaborate establishments consisting as a rule of several larger and smaller houses (one such farm in Slovakia had no fewer than 47 buildings), usually around a village common or square. The ground floor of the buildings was used for community living: dining hall, kitchen, and rooms for nursery, school, laundry, spinning, weaving, and sewing, and also for maternity rooms. The roofs (thatch mixed with clay to make them fireproof, a much-discussed invention of the Brethren) were high and steep so that the attics contained two stories of small chambers (Stuben, Oertel) where the married couples lived with their small children. These houses must once have distinguished themselves from the poor shacks of most of the peasants of the 16th and 17th centuries. "They have the most beautiful houses," exclaimed even the archfoe of the Brethren, the Catholic priest Christoph Andreas Fischer, in 1605. A few of these houses still stood in 1950 in Slovakia. Some of the Bruderhofs in America are not unlike those of the far-off origins. A very graphic picture of these 16th-century houses may be found in a contemporary woodcut on the title page of the polemical book by Christoffer Erhard, Gründliche kurtz verfasste Historia . . . (Munich, 1589). It shows a house with the thatched roof and two stories of windows in it, and in front of the house a man, woman, and child in the typical Hutterite garb. (This is perhaps the only original picture of the old Hutterites in existence.)
Each Bruderhof tried to be as self-sufficient as possible. It had not only its own fields, woods, ponds, mills, on the estates of the nobles, but also a great number of workshops, some of them of great renown. There were the shops of the black- and locksmiths, of the saddlers and shoemakers, of the carpenters, potters (see Ceramics), cutlers (Messerschmiede, see Folk Arts), wagonmakers, and furriers. They had also well-known breweries (the Hutterites still drink beer), and occasionally wineries. Their Kellermeister (both stewards of the vineyards, and of the revenues of the wineries, also keeper of the feudal wine cellars) were most in demand as masters in their field. Each household was managed by one responsible brother elected for this office, the Diener der Notdurft, the steward or keeper of the house. He had to purchase all that was needed—wool, cotton, and hemp, iron and other metals, wine and salt. His purchases were made with the proceeds of all the trades and crafts, and the material distributed as needed (see Community of Goods). He also organized the work on farm and shop, and directed everyone to his job according to the needs of the entire group. In North America the unlovely title of "boss" became the English designation for this office.
The afore-mentioned Fischer gives not only a very lively description of these community houses, but on the title pages of one of his pamphlets, entitled Der Hutterische Taubenkobel (1607), he has also a woodcut to illustrate his contention that the Brethren lived in these houses like doves in a dovecote. In another of his angry pamphlets, entitled 54 erhebliche Ursachen . . . (1605), he mentions over 70 such households in southern Moravia, in each of which from 500 to 600 persons (including children) were said to be living, and in a few even as many as a thousand or more. (These statements are probably exaggerated.) He warns the authorities about the increase in number of these places, and pleads that the Brethren should not be tolerated any longer in Moravia. It was the climax of the Austrian Counter Reformation; one should also keep in mind that these Bruderhofs were truly thriving, and that they were the object of much envy among the surrounding peasant-farmers. The landed nobles, however, gladly availed themselves of the unusual skill and industriousness of these "heretics."
The number of these Bruderhofs is a much-discussed theme. Loserth (Mennonitisches Lexikon II, 267) counts around 90 such settlements in Moravia, while Fischer claims but 70. F. Hruby, Die Wiedertäufer in Mähren (1935), is much more conservative in his well-documented estimates. He reports (for Moravia only) 21 such Bruderhofs in 1545, which number almost trebles to 57 in the "Golden Era" around 1589. Then came bad times, a Turkish War (1605) with its devastations, and the preliminaries of the Thirty Years' War, the high point of the Catholic Counter Reformation. By 1619 only 45 such collective farms are reported, and by 1622, not more than 24. The number of Bruderhofs in Slovakia is nowhere reported, but one may assume that there were hardly more than 20 altogether. Some of the buildings still stand today. (Pictures in L. Müller and in R. Friedmann; see bibliography.)
Each household had between 200 and 400 persons, one third roughly of this number not yet baptized children. The number of 1,000 inhabitants or more seems to be exaggerated—except for times of great disaster. Taking an average of 300 per unit, we arrive at the following approximate figures of Anabaptist population in Moravia:
(In 1622, all these more than 7,000 Brethren were expelled from Moravia, and no Bruderhof was spared. It was the final end of the communal life in that country.) Sixteenth-century authors give quite different figures, varying between 20,000 and 70,000, and Johann Amos Comenius even claims that each Bruderhof held a population of between two and three thousand. This information has to be taken with caution; Hruby's calculations sound much more likely.
As to the economic value of the Bruderhofs in the Golden Age of Hutterite history (late 16th century), the estimates are likewise somewhat vague. Loserth draws conclusions from a remark in the Chronicle that one single household was taxed 100 florins (gold pieces) and even more. Hruby (p. 91) found in one letter of Emperor Ferdinand II that up to 1620, at least 30,000 florins were confiscated from the Hutterites in southern Moravia. (He had very little power in Slovakia.) This is a tremendously large sum considering the devaluation of the currency at the time of the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War. Since the Brethren could still salvage some means when fleeing into Slovakia, their total fortune is estimated by Hruby as possibly more than 60,000 florins. Hence the ever-repeated urge of the emperor (himself in never-ending need of money) to press the Brethren for all their hidden savings. Hruby's account of this topic is highly informative and well documented.
Varying are also the reports concerning the hygiene in these collective housings. Some reports stress their great cleanliness, unusual for the standards of 16th-century peasantry (Loserth, Communismus, 281 f.). Particularly the concern for the healthy upbringing of the children in nurseries and schools is emphasized time and again. Yet, a foreign visitor in 1612 (Hruby, 127 f.) has this to report (translated from the Latin): "For their education they crowd together 200 to 300 children in great filth and stench. Hence a great number of them die early." Of course this is a report of the declining years, but it could be stated fairly generally that, in spite of their excellent physicians, the knowledge of fighting epidemics was yet too poor to prevent a high infant mortality, particularly in the houses that were overcrowded with children (Loserth, 248; Hruby, 75). It is doubtful, however, whether it was worse than at any other place of the 16th century.
The Bruderhof was also the place of worship since there was no separate chapel. It was in the common dining room that they celebrated and still celebrate the Lord's Supper at certain intervals, coming together from the entire Bruderhof or even from several in the vicinity. It is understandable that this type of living together, working, caring and suffering together, produced a very closely knit fellowship. Mutual aid existed as a matter of fact, as well as a spirit of togetherness unknown any where else.
Friedmann, Robert. "Die Habaner in der Slovakei." Wiener Zeitschrift fur Volkskunde (1927).
"Haushaben." Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 266 f.
Horsch, John. The Hutterian Brethren, 1528-1931: a story of martyrdom and loyalty. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1931. Reprinted: Falher, AB: Twilight Hutterian Brethren ; Bassano, AB: Fairville Hutterian Brethren, 1994.
Hrubý, František. Die Wiedertäufer in Mähren. Leipzig : Verlag M. Heinsius Nachfolger, 1935.
Loserth, Johann. "Der Communismus der mährischen Wiedertäufer im 16. and 17. Jahrhundert: Beiträge zu ihrer Lehre, Geschichte and Verfassung." Archiv für österreichische Geschichte 81, 1 (1895).
Müller, Lydia. Der Kommunismus der mährischen Wiedertäufer. Leipzig: M. Heinsius Nachf. Eger & Sievers, 1927.
See also the old polemical writings:
Erhard, Christopher. Gründliche kurtz verfaste Historia. Von Münsterischen Widertauffern : vnd wie die Hutterischen Brüder so auch billich Widertauffer genent werden, im Löblichen Marggraffthumb Märhern, deren vber die sibentzehen tausent sein sollen, gedachten Münsterischen in vilen änhlich [sic], gleichformig vnd mit zustimmet sein. Gedruckt zu München: Bey Adam Berg, 1589.
Fischer, Christoph Andreas. 54 erhebliche Ursachen, warum d. Widertauffer nicht seyn im Land zu leyden. Ingolstatt: Angermeyer, 1607.
Fischer, Christoph Andreas. Der Hutterischen Widertauffer Taubenkobel : In welchem all jhr Wüst, Mist, Kott vnnd Vnflat, das ist, jhr falsche, stinckende, vnflätige vnd abscheuliche Lehrn, was sie nemblich von Gott, von Christo, von den H. Sacramenten vnd andern Artickeln dess Christlichen Glaubens halten, werden erzählet, alle kürtzlich vnd treulich auss jhren eygnen Büchern, so wol getruckten als geschribnen, mit Anzeygung dess Orths, wo ein jedliche zufinden, verfasset. Auch des grossen Taubers dess Jacob Hutters Leben, von welchem sich die Widertauffer Hutterisch nennen, angehenckt. Getruckt zu Ingolstatt : In der Ederischen Truckerey, durch Andream Angermeyr, 1607.
Cite This Article
Friedmann, Robert. "Bruderhof." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 24 Mar 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Bruderhof&oldid=153842.
Friedmann, Robert. (1953). Bruderhof. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 March 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Bruderhof&oldid=153842.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 445-447. All rights reserved.
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