Joseph Kuhr (Gor) was a Hutterite preacher at Alwinc in Transylvania during the reign of Maria Theresa, and he was the leader of the group which in the face of severe persecution and augmented by the refugees from Carinthia fled to Walachia and thence to Vyshenka in Russia; in Walachia he was chosen as head of the brotherhood in 1779 and served until 1794.
From the pen of his successor, the historiographer Johannes Waldner (1749-1824), we learn many facts concerning the unparalleled energy of this man, who saved this Alwinc and Carinthian group from threatening extinction and led it to great prosperity in Russia. Before they left he was ill six months with the plague, which killed many of the Brethren at Alwinc and took its toll in his own family. On 15 August 1774 he was chosen as a preacher and confirmed the following year.
In 1762 began the struggle of the Transylvanian authorities to compel the Hutterian Brethren to sacrifice their faith. Only the leaders were to be banished from the country. Their chief opponent was the Jesuit Delpini (called "Delphini" in the chronicles), who placed himself at the disposal of the government for this very purpose. An imperial mandate was issued in 1762 that the Brethren would be tolerated in the country only on the condition that they would abandon their faith and join one of the three established churches. The Brethren replied that they preferred to leave, but the government refused to permit this, insisting on conversion instead.
The initial steps were taken by the Catholic bishop; if they would not comply voluntarily, they would be forced to do so. Kuhr undertook to defend the Hutterites before the bishop. In the spring of 1763, the government had Kuhr and the head of the brotherhood imprisoned; but in September they were released.
Six weeks later Delpini appeared, and made daily visits among the Brethren. First they had to give up their books. Then the elder, Mertl Roth, and the brotherhood were officially ordered to transfer to the Catholic faith. He, Delpini, would instruct them. On Sunday Delpini came to their chapel and preached on John 16: "I have yet many things to say unto you." At the close of the sermon he asked how they had liked his sermon. All were silent. Kuhr arose and said: "What you have said from the Gospel I know as well as you do; what you have said about the many saints I do not believe; and what you said about the Jesuit who moved a mountain is a Jesuit lie. The meaning of this part of the Gospel is quite different: Jesus means the rulers of the world, who like a mountain stand in the way of the truth, they shall be moved by the firm faith of the God-fearing." Then began an argument on infant baptism, in which Kuhr refuted Delpini. "You have made no Catholic of me," said Kuhr in conclusion.
But what followed was ominous. When the Jesuit rose to go, Kuhr cried out that he would not attend any more of his sermons: "He who still calls himself a brother or sister, let him decide to follow me!" But not a person, not even his son, went. Not a person, not even an elder, said a single word against the Jesuit. But the Jesuit, meeting Kuhr on the street, said, "Just wait; I'll teach you!" Kuhr replied, "You can teach me nothing; you cannot do more to me than God permits."
Delpini recognized that if he was to achieve his end he must render Kuhr innocuous. Kuhr was imprisoned in Klausenburg three years. Continued attempts were made to convert him, but to no avail. Waldner repeats some of the conversations between Kuhr and his adversaries, and they are indeed evidence of courage and talent. "He did not find it difficult to forsake his wealth and worldly possessions . . . yea, even his children for Christ's sake, for he loved God above all things." After three years he was released. He was asked to promise not to escape. "I am not a rogue nor an evildoer, and will await what God sends me."
The resistance of the Alwinc Anabaptists grew weaker. Mertl Roth, the elder of the group, was persuaded to recant, and the others followed. Roth's excuse for his step was, "We do not observe our faith right, and community of goods has disappeared. Even if we resist a long time, we must finally become Catholic. God may still turn the tide; a war may come, and then we may live for our faith under another government."
Kuhr proved that a brotherhood does not have to perish unless it gives itself up. Kuhr made an essential contribution, not only in the fact that the Hutterian Brethren still exist, but also that they are growing and thriving. He organized the resistance and persuaded the brethren who still had a spark of resistance in them to flee from Alwinc to Kreuz, where with the help of the Carinthian emigrees a new brotherhood was set up in the old spirit, in which Kuhr was the active ferment. With him went Johannes Stahl with wife and four children, Anna Wipf with five children, Jakob Stutz with his mother, a weaver named Joseph with his mother, and Lorenz Tschetterle. But of these some were seized. When Kuhr was informed that the entire brotherhood in Alwinc had confessed the new faith and fallen on their knees before the bishop, and Kuhr was urged to let himself be taught too, he said: "What shall I do? Each must carry his own burden and answer for himself on the Last Day."
Since Kuhr's presence in the country constituted a threat to the new Catholics, he and Johannes Stahl were conducted to the Polish border. Thus ended the Alwinc brotherhood. A total of 19 persons, whose names Waldner has recorded, escaped. Who should know better than Kuhr that Transylvania would be no home for a new brotherhood? They found no favor in the eyes of Emperor Joseph II, who issued the Edict of Toleration for the two Protestant churches.
Kuhr and Stahl wandered through Poland to Moldavia and on to Walachia, seeking a suitable site to set up their religious brotherhood. Walachia seemed favorable. There was land, no religious compulsion, and German settlers welcomed. And so the Hutterites of Kreuz, increased by the Alwinc remnant, migrated in October 1767 over the Transylvanian Alps. It was a very difficult journey with women and children on rough paths. Many a one, says Waldner, discovered that a sleeper can walk and a walker sleep. In Walachia Kuhr helped to establish the colony on a sound basis, for he understood the native tongue.
But the fortunate beginnings were interrupted by the Russo-Turkish war. Turkish robber bands plundered the Bruderhof and mistreated the people in a barbarous way. Then the colony accepted the offer of the Russian field marshal, Count Rumyantzev, to settle on his estates in Vyshenka on the Desna. They spent several decades in Russia, making rapid progress. Kuhr introduced all the old institutions of the brotherhood, which had been lost during the migratory years. But to him his most important task was to return to Transylvania and get his three children who were still living in Alwinc; he brought two out, his son Joseph and his daughter Gretel; but his son Michel had married a Hungarian wife and could not leave then. He promised to come the following year, but he died in 1786.
Kuhr held the office of preacher for many years, until old age compelled him to turn it over to Johannes Waldner, the historian, retaining, how ever, the headship of the brotherhood. He died 2 May 1794 at the age of 80. A week before his death he delivered his last Rede und Vermahnung to the assembled elders. He had been a preacher for 46 years; the entire brotherhood was under his care 15 years. (From the "Denkwürdigkeiten Johannes Waldners," kindly loaned to the author by Elias Walter, Macleod, Alberta.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 582-584.
Loserth, Johann. "Decline and Revival of the Hutterites." Mennonite Quarterly Review 4 (1930): 93-112.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Das Klein-Geschichtsbuch der Hutterischen Brüder. Philadelphia, PA: Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1947.
Cite This Article
Loserth, Johann. "Kuhr, Joseph (1714-1794)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1958. Web. 1 Sep 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Kuhr,_Joseph_(1714-1794)&oldid=92359.
Loserth, Johann. (1958). Kuhr, Joseph (1714-1794). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 1 September 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Kuhr,_Joseph_(1714-1794)&oldid=92359.
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