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Germany, Austria, and Switzerland to 1937

The actual literary discovery of Anabaptism was made in the second half of the 19th century, when research was stirring up a more general interest in Anabaptist problems. The literature dealing with the Mennonites in the first half of the 19th century, whether in the nature of biography or monograph, has the character of personal reaction of the author rather than a general interest in the history and principles of Anabaptism as such. Nevertheless there were earlier literary depositions, though rare.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

The oldest literary mention concerns the Anabaptists in Moravia and stems from the pen of one no less important than the author of Simplicius Simplicissimus, Johann Christoph Grimmelshausen, and occurs in 1669. In Book V, Chapter 19, Grimmelshausen describes as if he had seen them in person the institutions and the peaceful life of the Hutterian Brethren. Their puritanical and pious living makes a deep impression on the hero of the novel, but he finally rejects the Hutterite pattern as the solution of his life-problem, especially since he must view these people as heretics. The question arises here, from what source the author derived his knowledge of the Anabaptists. He was never, as far as is known, in Moravia, nor is it possible, as some have suggested, that he became acquainted with them "in the valleys of the Black Forest"; his whole manner of presentation indicates that he must have read about them. The chapter on the Anabaptists in Moravia is a unit in itself, as well as a purely descriptive essay, making the assumption that it is a reproduction, perhaps from memory, appear a fact. For the structural development of the novel the Anabaptist chapter is significant in that it supplies the motivation for the hero's return to religion.

The pleasure in travel incipient in the 18th century, the century of realism; the eye for detail schooled by the great journeys of discovery; and on the other hand, toleration of the Mennonites and their becoming settled—all these factors helped to place their cultural and religious life before a more objective lens than in the Reformation and post-Reformation periods.

Timidly the distinction between the Münsterites and the Mennonites was winning its way to the fore. The chapter "In Reimen kurtz gefasste Ketzer-Geschichte" in Der Alten und Neuen Schwärmer Widdertäufferischer Geist is evidence of this; it presents Menno Simons as a gentle but positive Reformer.

The travel journals of the time offer many references to the Mennonites. The widely read Uffenbach, in Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen, Holland und Engelland (1780), mentions the churches of the Amsterdam "Mennists," stressing their simplicity, and (so early) states his opinion that there is no observable difference between their worship and that of the Reformed, "except that they, as is well known, baptize no infants. . . ." With respect he describes the character of the Mennonites as "very clean and inwardly excellent." In Philipp Wilhelm Gercken's Reisen durch Schwaben, Bayern, Parts III and IV, covering the years 1786 and 1788, there is a description of the farm of the hereditary Mennonite leaseholder of the Donnersbergerhof in the Palatinate. Mention must also be made of the Reise nach Danzig by the painter and engraver Chodowiecki, although it was originally written in French. It has fixed in word and picture the nature of the Danzig Mennonites as somewhat parsimonious but honest.

We are taken into an altogether different world by the Pietist Jung-Stilling in his Heimweh (1794). Jung-Stilling knows and respects the South German Mennonites. With affection he sketches the life of a Mennonite family in the Palatinate, the cleanliness and industry, and above all the unemotional and unsentimental piety. This Mennonite family the author uses allegorically for the place where the soul is prepared for the struggle of life, and he has thereby correctly caught the significance of the Mennonite character.

Nineteenth Century

The first author who was a personal friend of the Mennonites was the Prussian official and educator Ludwig von Baczko. In his Familiengemälde in drei Aufzügen: Die Mennoniten (Königsberg, 1809) he becomes the champion of a small group of people upon whom the verdict still lies which permits certain "liberties" toward them. In opposition to this idea Baczko presents reality, which will shatter all defamation and will bring to victory the selflessness of the Mennonite to aid a thoughtless landowner and his daughter back to the right way. Baczko was the first to write an independent work about the Mennonites. Franz Sonnenfeld published Der Wiedertäufer von Weisskirch (1818), one of his beautiful stories of the people. Weisskirch is an estate in Alsace in the Sundgau, near the French border.

In the case of Jens Jakob Eschels also it was personal contact with Mennonites that produced a living picture. In his Lebensbeschreibung eines alten Seemannes (1835) he catches the commercially correct, but humanly warm tone of the Mennonite mercantile houses in his characterization of the van der Smissens, fathers and sons. Johanna Schopenhauer, the mother of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, in her memoirs makes an entry, brief but objective, of her acquaintance with the Mennonites of Danzig (1842). Julian Heins' Menno Simonis, Ein dramatisches Gedicht (1844) is a slight poetic production (46 pp.) of no literary value, though sympathetic. Agnes von Möller (died 1879), a teacher in Königsberg, published in 1851 Die Mennoniten, a popular story whose hero was a young Danzig Mennonite who had joined the Prussian army in 1813, the same person as the hero of Wildenbruck's Menonit.

It is not until the second half of the 19th century that literary material on the Mennonites grows out of historical reflection. At its beginning stands Achim von Arnim's fragment, Die Kronenwächter (1817), with its romantic historico-philosophic interpretation of the events in Münster as a stage in the purification of the German spirit and the idea of empire. Münster is bound up with the fate of the Empire. The crown is in Munster! Thus the Kronenwächter, had it been completed, would have been the first attempt to emerge from a purely sectarian and polemic judgment of Münster. It was written in anticipation of the results of the work of individual scholars, and produces its fruit intuitively, as literature frequently does.

The invigorating air of a more realistic period, which is beginning to move in Arnim's work, we inhale deeply in the Novelle by Adolf Stern, written nine years later, Die Wiedertäufer (1866). Stern stands within the problems of history. The degree of dependence of Anabaptism upon, and its independence from, Münster becomes evident. Stern's work presupposes that of the historian Cornelius, whose scholarly presentation of the course of events in Münster in his works is given a psychological and artistic interpretation in the figure of the penitent Bernt Rothmann. The contrast between Rothmann and the other leading figure is used to clarify inherent possibilities in the Münster development, but at the same time to lead in the definite direction of the verdict that Münster and "the other Anabaptists" belong in two different categories. In the penitent Anabaptist Rothmann, Stern has created a unique character.

Between Stern's Novelle and Keller's Ursula not much was published; it consists only of the popular tales of the Alsatian Margarethe Spörlin and a poem by Johann Gabriel von Seidl, Der Wiedertäufer (1876), both historically true to reality. The motif of Seidl's poem is supported by the Martyrs' Mirror. Spörlin knows the Alsatian Mennonites at first hand and pictures their practical charity and moral strength, and has the tolerant reformers of Strasbourg do them justice, decrying the intolerant attitude which entered the city later. The three tales of her Elsässische Lebensbilder (1875), "Das Waldhaus," "Mein Kuckuck," and "Der Heimgang," deal with Anabaptists or Mennonites.

With Gottfried Keller's Ursula (1878) we are taken for the first time into the period of the origin of Anabaptism on Swiss soil. An unlucky star seems to have hovered over the literary interpretation of this part of Anabaptist history; the old biased polemic sources, Bullinger and Kessler, and the over‑powering patriotic warrior characteristics of Zwingli control the field. Keller in particular uses as the background of his story only the excrescences occurring in the "fringe areas" of Anabaptism. His heroine Ursula becomes entangled in these aberrations, and demands that her lover, just returned from the Italian wars, also become an Anabaptist. He refuses. At this point reality and fantasy become strangely confused. In this dubious light the incident of the escape from the "Wellenberg" is portrayed. Ursula is finally brought to her senses by the events of the war in which her lover is fighting. She follows him to the battlefield and finds him seriously wounded in the evening after the battle. From now on they live "as worthy members of society." In this Novelle Keller was trying to portray not history, but an idea. Anabaptism, he means to convey, passed away, as it had to, like any transitional phase in any human evolution finding its true nature. This judgment of Anabaptism is meant to represent a judgment on the Christian religion, and not Anabaptism alone. Behind it is the atheistic humanism of Feuerbach. It is a matter of removing the husks from the real character of religion and thus cleansing it of its aberrations (Meumann).

Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl views Anabaptism with more historical truth. In his Novelle Mein Recht (1875) he treats the problem of nonresistance with special understanding; the idea of nonvengeance wins. The author reveals the weight of this problem not only for the historical situation in which it was set, but for the entire wretched world. It can cause one to lose one’s mind. Very clearly the springs are brought to light from which the moral content of Anabaptism and of non-Anabaptism are built up; Anabaptism lives from the Bible; non-Anabaptism, in spite of its attachment to the church, finds its moral norms in the folk mores. Riehl has left no doubt but that society needs the Bible.

The Mennonites were cited before the forum of a saber-rattling theatrical world by the dramatist Ernst von Wildenbruch. His "tragedy" Der Menonit (1882) is a sad play, from the point of view of artistry as well as of content. The deep conviction of nonresistance in the old sense has been turned by Wildenbruch into a theatrical affair of honor, and the Mennonites branded as cowardly traitors. Wildenbruch had no inkling of the meaning of nonresistance; he did not take the pains to examine his characters, or he would not have permitted himself to be swept into such an insult. The "hero" of the drama, who abandons his Mennonitism, staking all on his honor, forgets to save his "honor" as soon as he can exchange it for a petticoat. The author has rendered a poor service both to the concept of honor and to the Mennonites. Gysbert von Vincke (Ein kleines Sündenregister, 1882) has severely criticized the dramatic qualities of the tragedy and has shown that it did not contribute a page of honor to the history of German literature.

The third work of higher quality and a new type on the basis of research is Taylor's Klytia (1883). Klytia is the work of a theologian, and Taylor the pseudonym of Adolf Hausrath. His portraiture of Anabaptist character is on the main based on contemporary research, chiefly that of Ludwig Keller, and by his own thought on the philosophy of history creates a peculiar view of Anabaptism, which does not, however, do justice to historical fact. To be sure, his Anabaptist Werner is a religious and moral personality, in pleasant contrast to the theologians involved in disputes, a man of unselfish charity. But in the first place his personality is not developed in the story, but plays the role of an "apparition" in moments of danger; he is the good spirit or bad conscience according to the need. From the literary point of view he is merely a motive. In the second place, he lacks historical effectiveness. He remains an isolated figure. Besides, his aversion to dogma does not, like that of the real Anabaptists, stem from a sound Biblicism, but from the modern antithesis between religion and faith, between dogma and life. He has neither church nor brotherhood behind him. He is therefore seen from the modern point of view of "progressive" Protestantism as opposed to the reactionary forces. The Anabaptist Werner is the handyman of enlightened Deism of the 19th century. Hausrath did not create an ideal historical figure, but rather a historical ideal. Interestingly, Klytia was reprinted at Newton, Kansas, in 1929 by the Herald Publishing Company, called the sixth edition, having been run as a serial in Der Herold.

Judging from the literary products, the battle for genuine Anabaptism fluctuates, with more turbulence and indecision than in the research itself. Since Wildenbruch there is no historical thread to follow. Sympathy alternates with antipathy. An exception is found in the presentations that know something of the questions posed by history. Marie Loeper-Hoesella's Der Mattenbauer (1890) follows not long after Wildenbruch; of this story Mannhardt could say it was a vindication of the Mennonites.

A year later Theodor Fontane places the American Mennonites in a rather dubious light in Quitt (1891). The picture, though friendly, is a mixture of truth and fiction. Fontane was never in America. But although the name of the Mennonite settlement, Nogat-Ehre, is his invention, the story is based upon an actual Mennonite community at Darlington, Oklahoma, as Zieglschmid has shown. The Mennonite Hornbostel, who in some respects resembles a Biblical patriarch, through the course into which Fontane has forced the story for the sake of artistic unity, falls into the schism between love and justice when he receives Lehnert, a murderer who has fled to America, into his home, sees through him, finally accepts him into the church, but still refuses him the hand of his daughter. Fontane's moral strength was not adequate to the task of finding a solution. This inadequacy is shared by the Mennonite. At the end Lehnert loses his life in the same manner as the man whom he has killed; then all is "quits." In the novel there are, in confusion, an element of Calvinistic predestination, the idea of justice, and a general sentimentally Christian background. What caused Fontane to intertwine the Mennonites into this "machinery" of fate?

Family recollections and other oral reports must be the source of Bernhardine Schulze-Smidt's acquaintance with the Mennonites; for her knowledge is on the one hand too definite to have been invented, and on the other too inexact to be the result of her own observation. In both stories, Weltkind (1896) and Eiserne Zeit (1898), the protagonist is a physician, so that an inner connection may be safely assumed. The problem, clearly presented, is Mennonitism versus the world or culture, and it cannot be said that the presentation is wrong. For such students really exist, who, having viewed a completely different world, have outgrown the tradition-bound and narrow circles of the paternal homestead, or even become estranged from it. The author does not describe his physician-hero as an apostate, but shows that the Mennonite heritage can retain its effectiveness even under new circumstances. In the deeds of the selfless doctor, who at the same time understands human nature, the moral strength of Mennonitism lives on. Even though the historical basis for the motif of the repudiation in Eiserne Zeit may not be demonstrable, yet there is a great deal of truth in the way the repudiated one finds his church in the end, and may serve another dying man as a priest.

Twentieth Century before World War I

The period 1900-1914 produced a series of literary works of the greatest variety. In 1904 a Protestant minister of Württemberg, Wilhelm Stähle, under the pseudonym of Philipp Spiess, wrote a historical novel on the early Anabaptist period of his own country, basing it on the person of the provost Aichelin, and titling it Der Reichsprofos. Spiess knows the history and the sources, and in a large measure he does justice to the earnestness of the Anabaptist concept of life. He has an Anabaptist exercise Christian love to his enemy, the monster Aichelin. To this extent Spiess considers Anabaptism a legitimate branch of the Reformation. But by having his Anabaptist gradually develop "a quiet attachment to Protestant doctrine," he makes the purely historical effect in this one Anabaptist a principle of negative judgment on Anabaptism in general and fails to recognize the independence of the Anabaptist type.

In Hungerjahr (1907) Heinrich Bechtolsheimer presents a graphic picture of the well-ordered Mennonite farm in the Palatinate or Hesse and of the people who operate a farm of this kind. As Baczko had done long ago, Bechtolsheimer shows how the Mennonite interprets brotherly love—as the act of assistance.

Written from the viewpoint of the established Protestant church, though with an understanding of Anabaptism, are the two books, Die drei Brüder vom Brockhof (1908?) by Peter Cürlis, and Zwei Häuser, zwei Welten (1911) by Ernst Marti. Cürlis takes a portion of the history of the Reformation in the Rhineland and describes the struggle between the creeds as it determines the fate of the three brothers of the Brockhof, The Reformed Church is finally the victor. Anabaptism and Menno Simons are also involved in this conflict. Menno is presented as a congenial person. He, of course, stands somewhat aside; this is stylistically shown by not weaving him into the narrative in person, but by excerpts from his writings as if he were giving a historical report. This stylistic defect is at once also a defect in the inner critique. For according to Cürlis the Reformed Church became the heir of Anabaptism by the adoption of church discipline and in the fate of martyrdom it shared with Anabaptism. Thereby two points of view of the decline of Anabaptism in the Rhineland are stated. But there are still enough other differences remaining between the Reformed and the Anabaptist faith, precisely the decisive ones, which do not fit into this sort of explanation.

Ernst Marti, with his story of Swiss Anabaptists in the Emmental about 1700, treats the inner structure of the two groups, those belonging to the state church and the Anabaptists. He understands both. Not only the socially rooted church-consciousness of the peasant belonging to the large church, but also the brotherhood-consciousness, deriving from the opposition between the kingdom of God and the world of the Mennonite weaver, has its recognized strong points. But they are "two worlds," which can never be united: when the Anabaptist maiden finally receives the ring of her lover from the Sonnenhalde, it is the greeting of one who has died.

Lotte Gubalke's Das Marienbild der Nonne Zeitlose (1911) is a product of fantasy. It presents a modern caricature of Hans Denck. A supernatural libertinism is falsely ascribed to him, of which there is no trace in history. The entire terminology of Denck's language is a clumsy distortion of his deep thoughts into decadent sentimentality.

Ferdinand von Wahlberg's Mennoniten (1912) places the Russian Mennonites near to Tolstoy. It must be called a novel of propaganda even though some of the description is accurate. Out of the problematics of the concept of nonresistance Wahlberg evolves great future tasks for the Mennonites, which become the tasks in behalf of a new humanity. In it "humanity is the mature fruit for which the Mennonites have been the seeds." However flattering it sounds, in this analysis of the problems the future task of the Mennonites is misunderstood. The concept of nonresistance, which with the Anabaptists is obedience to the Scripture, is here harnessed to the secularized idea of pacifism after the model of Tolstoy: an economic Utopia.

Taking up the idea of nonresistance and coupling it with the discipline of the ban, Lu Volbehr in Kathrin (1916) treats the spiritual problems of a soul on an unhistorical—and historically impossible—background (the Mennonites had unceremoniously seized possession of some vacant lands!), in which the "laws" of the Mennonites are played against the spiritual attitude, heightened to tragic proportions, of a woman who becomes a Mennonite through marriage. It is at once ridiculous and dangerous, since, written during the war as it was, it might have caused the peculiarities of the Mennonites to create a cleft between them and society—if the sentimentality were not so obvious. It is a counterpart to Wildenbruch's Menonit, where the victim of Mennonite "doctrine" is the man; with Volbehr it is the woman.

After World War I, personal and therefore historical memoirs or sometimes narrative presentation on the basis of personal acquaintance are given in the following works: Herman Sudermann, Bilderbuch meiner Jugend (1922); Elisabeth Bartels, Doch hängt mein ganzes Herz an dir, du kleine Stadt! (1920); Ferdinand Pont, Wir wollten (1921); Agnes Miegel, Geschichten aus Alt-Preussen (1926); Paul Fechter, Das wartende Land (1931); Marie Gallison-Reuter, Aus meinem Leben in zwei Welten (1927).

Sudermann, of Mennonite descent, offers a slightly ironically tinted description of the "sectarians from whom I stem," the religious services in the Elbing-Ellerwald Mennonite church, the somewhat narrow spirit, which, for instance, prohibited the wearing of "white blouses." Sudermann is glad to have outgrown Mennonitism.

The congregation at Friedrichstadt furnishes the subject matter for the books of Elisabeth Bartels and Pont. In the one by Bartels the congregational life is restored by Pastor Neufeld. Impressions of the activities in the city, instruction from the pastor and the stern sisters, the joys of a trip to Hanerau, the estate acquired by the Mannhardt family through marriage with the van der Smissens are recounted. Ferdinand Pont goes back into the history of Friedrichstadt. He shows the hopelessness of the attempts to develop the city. The Mennonite spirit is an unintentional impediment; its oscillation between love of the world and rejection of the world prevents an energetic course of action. Pont is a rationalist; consequently he does not grasp the seriousness of the problem of harmonizing Christianity and culture. Agnes Miegel mentions Mennonite character only casually, but correctly recognizes its solidity. Paul Fechter's strongly realistic style of description, like Sudermann's, portrays usually the accidental traits of character. His Elbing Mennonites are presented in their domesticity and in their jargon, to be sure; but on the whole they are not very clearly seen.

In his historical novel of propaganda, Albrecht Dürer, ein deutscher Heiland (1924), Hermann Kosel deals with the conflict with the "ungodly painters," and thus also comes to speak of Hans Denck. According to Kosel, Denck is the originator of all evil, a "phantast and inciter." This designation sounds very strange, coming from the mouth of a man whose conception of Christianity is far more "phantastic" than the faithful attainment of faith through self-discipline in Hans Denck.

The Zwingli memorial year, 1931, brought forth several novels about Zwingli. The forerunner of these was Wilhelm Schäfer's Zwingli-Volksbuch (1926). The poet's intention to make Zwingli prominent prevents the artistic utilization of the results of modern research on Anabaptism; the ancient picture of the Anabaptists is instead restored. In his careless simplification of events Schäfer makes use of Anabaptism as a foil for Zwingli's sound sense. The Anabaptists are pictured only in their confused extremes; in Grebel's eyes the fire of fanaticism also glows. The work is based, like Emanuel Stickelberger's Zwingli (1930), on the ancient polemic sources. Stickelberger goes into greater detail, but nevertheless makes Anabaptism into an affair of the beer table and the street rather than an evangelical movement. He assumes a meeting of Grebel and Manz of Zürich with Thomas Müntzer, which has deeply influenced Grebel. This personal contact never existed; the assumed influence of Müntzer is beyond the realm of probability. Stickelberger gives no clue as to the means by which such a planless movement could have had the strength to form a brotherhood and to create an exemplary manner of life.

A peculiar mixture of the deepest sympathetic comprehension of the problem and the worst selection of material is found in Ludwig Huna's Kampf um Gott, ein Roman aus der Zeit der Wiedertäufer (1923). Huna takes the reader into the midst of the ferment in Reformation times, into the process of the rise of the creeds. The scene is chiefly Hesse and Münster; the leading characters are Philip of Hesse on the one hand, and Balser, the disciple of Denck, and his wife Lukardis, on the other. The theme is toleration. Its champions are the Anabaptists and Philip, who is under their influence. The Anabaptist movement is viewed in its historical results. Denck's line of thought is on the whole repeated correctly; the readiness of the Anabaptists to sacrifice is nicely portrayed. The distinction between them and the Münsterites is clearly brought out. Denck's disciple wants to save Münster and makes a strenuous effort to do so. He tells the Münsterites that their sin exceeds all papist and Lutheran sins. But the book has a flaw; Huna completely overlooks the fundamentally Biblicistic character of Anabaptism. Instead he makes Denck the decisive figure. This is unhistorical. There is propaganda in this evaluation. It is clearly expressed in Philip's becoming the forerunner of the concept of a free and democratic state, for so Huna interprets Denck and places him as a statesman into his world. The toleration of these Anabaptists with their freedom of religion and conscience is only a stage on the road of the progressive evolution of the birth of the "real" person, until finally "spirit and faith are mightier than the will of the prince." The book bears the stamp of its time. The state finally enters into the inheritance of the church, as the "amen" at the end of Philip's address is spoken not by the theologians but by the secular chancellor.

A very different spirit permeates Wilhelmus von Nassauen (1932?) by Wilhelm Kotzde-Kottenroth. It is of the people. The Netherlands with inexpressible sacrifice are in the throes of their struggle with Spain. In the enormous sea of blood that flowed there, the fate of the Anabaptists is only a droplet. But even this droplet is a testimonial of evangelical confession. It is thus that the author sees the Mennonites, "whom the Frisian Menno Simons had won with his gentle teaching." As the example of a Mennonite whose father had been burned at the stake is to show, the Dutch abandoned nonresistance in the horror of the age and because of insight into the process of growth as a nation (Volk).

To the extent that Werner Kortwich's Friesennot (1935) applies to the Russian Mennonites at all—the story claims to deal with them—the problem of nonresistance is again unfolded, but is diverted into the special case of obedience to a Bolshevik government. The background of the story is unhistorical; the course of events is unhistorical. With his alternative, "Bible or gun!" the argument is directed against Christianity in general, although it is not intended to be so pointed, for that would mean that Christianity would be shattered by the question of nonresistance. But it is clear that this argumentation is not developed from the idea of nonresistance so much as out of the aggressive Christianity of the opponent to the leader of the settlement. The author's concept of Christianity bears features of bias. The steadfastness of the leader who, as, long as he does not have the most valid reason for interfering, controls himself out of obedience, acquires an aura of weakness as over against the attitude of the other. In reality the continuing fanatical challenge is as unnatural as it is unnecessary; for the leader is also capable of action. No Lutheran Christian would have shot down the band at once, but only when it was necessary. And so the fundamental idea, to show that the Christian has no alternative in his attitude toward Bolshevism than to take a gun, is not clearly developed. There is a lack of ability to show Bolshevism as it is; the subject matter of the story is merely an incident of undisciplined soldiery, and the action an episode. Friesennot was also made into a commercial motion picture in Germany.

A different approach to the problem is made by Alexander Schwarz in his book, In Wologdas weissen Wäldern (1934). (Alexander Schwarz is the pseudonym of Hans Harder.) From the lines of this book somewhat suggestive of a diary, we see the true face of Bolshevism, the inhuman systematic brutality, and the satanic hate against all who believe in God. The reader feels as if he were standing on the verge of an abyss. Madness lies beyond. And yet God lives. This is the experience of these Christians, these Mennonites. Only in one respect is its characterization too "literary": in the way the young Mennonite students parry fate with sarcasm.

The Mennonite refugee camp at Mölln (1930) also found its novelist in Ernst Behrends. All the strength of conquering obstacles which he has observed in these people Behrends concentrated in the figure of Beata (1935). To be sure, the conflict which he experiences—a deeply conceived problem of marriage —is a romantic conception, but it is kept within the framework of faith and is a real problem and thus becomes an experience of reality. This same genuineness characterizes also those aspects of the story which the author had not himself personally observed, especially the Mennonite settlements in Russia. In no previous work have the Mennonite principles, as they deviate from the Lutheran creed, been presented so impartially and with so little distortion as here. In this respect Beata is a modest foundation stone in the understanding of the una sancta.

The migrations of the Mennonites from Russia have also revealed some significance for the Germans in other countries. This is a new point of view. It was used the first time by Maria Veronika Rubatscher in her novel Das lutherische Joggele (1936), significantly called in the subtitle "a novel out of the martyrbook of the German soul." One might think that the Anabaptism of Tyrol, that most unfortunate of all Anabaptist groups, has found its singer. With loyalty to the sources their fate is related, historically attested characters appear; in the sparse strokes with which the life of the brotherhood is fixed, a sure historical line has been drawn and the effect of the life of the Anabaptists upon the people receives due consideration. But in the epic flow of the narrative there are cliffs. The standpoint of the author as representing "Auslandsdeutschtum" makes her treat Anabaptism first as a German popular movement and only secondly an evangelical movement. The Anabaptists are the religious reaction against the estrangement of the German populace from church politics. Therefore the reason for the existence of Anabaptism is not given full consideration. The reasons for the terrible persecution by the church remain completely unclarified. Like the burning of witches the persecution of Anabaptists is a part of the tragedy of the life of the German spirit. This is an evasion of the bare facts. In the second place, the Anabaptist heritage in Tyrol is won by the "Old Church, eternally victorious." The hero of the novel finally joins the saints as a saint in the popular faith. The historical process of the disappearance of Anabaptism from Tirol is only apparently given. The silence on the actual reason for the extermination as a fault of the church, in connection with the other idea of the popular character of the movement, makes room for a clever interpretation: the church had managed to create a substitute for the specific religious needs which were met in Anabaptism, and thus has in the end incorporated this "popular movement." In a similar manner the church also absorbs the nationality of the people with their customs and powers; the natural piety of the heart with the "paganism still in its blood" which is portrayed here is no compliment for the Deutschgläubige," but only a requisition of the anima naturaliter christiana for the church (Roman Catholic). The book is the product of a Catholic who loves Germany. But in spite of good foundations Anabaptism does not receive due justice. -- OS

Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, 1937-1957

After 1936, the date of the last work in the previous article, the Anabaptist theme has been used in numerous works, including several by major authors. In 1937 Ricarda Huch, a gifted and versatile author, included an unusually understanding treatment of the Anabaptists in her belletristic history, Das Zeitalter der Glaubensspaltung. In the same year E. G. Kolbenheyer's three volume fictionized biography of Paracelsus was published in which he also discussed the Anabaptists with understanding. In 1939 Lulu von Strauss und Torney, a writer of high quality, whose work springs to a large extent from a love for her native Westphalia and its history, wrote a novel entitled Der jüngste Tag, which is generally considered her best work. In it one of the major characters is a mentally ill Westphalian weaver, inspired to prophecy by the Münsterites, who is accused of setting fire to a village when the millennium does not come on the date he has predicted, and is stoned to death. It is a fine character study.

David Joris is the subject of one novel, written by Rudolph Stickelberger, editor of the Lucerne (Switzerland) Neue Nachrichten. Stickelberger entitled his story "Schwarmgeister," and published it with a biography of Bernhardin von Ochino in a volume called Narren Gottes (1945). The only purpose of the book appears to be entertainment, and Stickelberger distorts the facts of Joris' life to increase its entertainment value. He considers the followers of Joris to be Anabaptists per se, and all Anabaptists to be unbalanced "Schwarmgeister."

One novel and one novella having as their theme the Dutch-North German Anabaptists have appeared since World War II. Neither has much literary value. The novel, Heinrich Specht's Heil’ge Feuer (n.d.), was written during the war. Based on the Reformation legend of Anna Holmer, which Arnold Fokke put into writing in Dutch in 1876, it treats Münster, the North German Anabaptists, and political conflict on the Frisian-German border. The novella is "Die Geburt der Liebe," a romanticized story of Menno Simons by the popular former Swiss author and Hollywood director Hans Müller-Einigen, which makes Menno out to be a champion of 19th-century religious liberalism. It is published with two other historical novellas in a volume entitled Die Menschen sind alle gleich (1946).

The Swiss-South German Anabaptists appear in fiction more frequently than does the Dutch-North German group. In his biography of Sebastian Franck, entitled Sebastian (1952), Hans Franck, a good writer, treats Hans Denck and the Nürnberg Anabaptists associated with the "gottlose Maler" ("the ungodly artists"). His work is based on inaccurate sources, such as Will-Erich Peuckert, and although he is sympathetic with the Anabaptists and portrays them as redeeming some weaknesses of the state church, he dismisses them ultimately as "Schwärmer," He gives no indication of understanding that there is an Anabaptism different from the mystic fanaticism which he pictures in Nürnberg.

A large proportion of the writers interested in Anabaptism in the mid-20th century were Swiss. In 1945 Erich Diebold, a Swiss journalist, wrote a novel on the Anabaptists of the canton of Zürich entitled Folge dem Licht. It is a poorly written book, lacking as much in historical understanding as in depth of character portrayal and convincing plot development. The author's thesis seems to be that the Anabaptists had excellent ideas, of which he mentions "conversion to righteousness and brotherly love, self-denial, and discipleship to Christ" (Foreword, 8), but that they were wrong in trying to overthrow the existing government (as he maintains they did) in order to introduce those ideas by force into a society not yet ready for them.

Two Swiss dramas of unequal value, Caesar von Arx's Brüder in Christo (1947), and Heinrich Künzi's Barbara (1948), were published almost simultaneously. Barbara, a Bernese dialect drama produced by the Berner Heimatschutz Theater, portrays an Anabaptist girl who clings firmly to her faith in the face of persecution by church and state. It is pro-Anabaptist; the love and strength of Barbara put her accusers to shame. The play has dramatic weaknesses and errors in historical interpretation, especially in the final act, in which the Anabaptists escape en masse to the Jura Mountains. The drama by von Arx, on the contrary, is a tragedy strong from the standpoints of both idea and execution. Its hero, Zürich city councillor Falk, a friend of Zwingli, becomes convinced of the correctness of the Anabaptist position, but because of a chain of tragic circumstances considers himself unworthy of becoming an Anabaptist and thus remains in the state church, his sensitive spirit broken because he does so. Von Arx treats this genuinely tragic motif not only with penetrating understanding of the human problem involved, but also with astounding insight into the nature of Anabaptism as well as of the Reformed tradition, and he portrays the essential conflict between the two with magnificent clarity. His knowledge of the historical setting is also exceptionally good. Von Arx, whose works are primarily historical tragedies of the nature of Brüder in Christo, is generally considered to be Switzerland's leading modern dramatist, and Brüder in Christo is probably his best. It is also possibly the best literary production ever written with an Anabaptist or Mennonite theme.

Willi Schäferdiek's Rebell in Christo (1953), which has Thomas Müntzer as its hero, incidentally brings the Zürich Anabaptists (Grebel and Manz) into contact with Müntzer, erroneously of course, since the movement had no connection with Müntzer or the Peasants’ Revolt. The representation of the Anabaptists is sympathetic, apparently based largely on Grebel's letter to Müntzer. He also brings Hans Denck into his story. Schäferdiek was for some time dramatic director of the Berlin radio, and was a leading German author.

Only five works appearing between 1935 and 1957 used the later Mennonite theme. They were all novels. Walther Laedrach's Passion in Bern (1938) is a sympathetic and historically accurate novel based on the persecution of the Bernese Anabaptists in the first two decades of the 18th century. Der Frondeur (1945), an excellent novel in the Bernese dialect by Rudolf van Tavel, an outstanding Swiss novelist, discusses incidentally the Mennonites of the Emmental after the Thirty Years' War. The last of the major novels on the Mennonites was Eva Caskel's Marguerite Valmore (1948), the story of a French émigré's entrance into the Mennonite community at Danzig during the time of the French Revolution. One of Ilse Schreiber's novels on Canada, Vielerlei Heimat unter dem Himmel (1949), has as its main theme the Russian Mennonite emigrants to Canada. A second, Canada, Welt des Weizens (1951), mentions them incidentally.

Among the South German Mennonites several short story writers have appeared, whose tales have been published chiefly in the Christlicher (Mennonitischer) Gemeinde-Kalender, particularly Matthias Pohl (1860-1934), long pastor in Sembach (Palatinate), who also published religious verse, Martha Händiges, the wife of Pastor E. Händiges, later at Enkenbach (Palatinate), and Charlotte Hoffmann-Hege. The Gemeinde-Kalender has also carried some religious verse by Pastor Gerhard Hein of Sembach. -- MEB

For later works see: Literature, Russo-German Mennonite

Germany: The Münster Theme

Until the late 18th century the only significant mention of the Anabaptists occurs in some contemporary didactic and satirical poems. Understandably, the period of storm and stress found the Münster theme attractive, and in the last 25 years of the 18th century three dramas on the Münster rebellion, all of poor quality, appeared in Germany. In 1777 Christoph Bernhard Schücking, an uncle of the noted Levin Schücking and himself a citizen of Münster, wrote a drama on Elizabeth Wandscherer, Beuckelszoon's wife, entitled Elisabeth (Münster). Although the drama is freighted with excesses, which are explained not only by the period in which it was written but also by the youth of the author, and although it lacks any finished artistry, it foreshadows the presentation of personality conflict in Jan of Leyden (Jan Beukelszoon) as tragedy which is more fully developed in later works. In his Jan von Laiden (Münster, 1786) Baron von Nesselrode senses the dramatic possibilities in the Münster episode, although his characters behave with too much flattering dramatic nobility to be in good taste. A drama by Christian August Vulpius (Goethe's brother-in-law), Johann von Leiden (Leipzig, 1793), portrays von Leyden as a titan.

In 19th-century Germany the Münsterites appear as a literary theme with relative frequency, and their treatment is adapted to the century's changing moods. The only work of literary value to mention them, however, is Achim von Arnim's romantic novel Die Kronenwächter (Berlin, 1817). Arnim places the imperial crown in Münster, and considers the Münster episode a positive step in the development of the German concept of empire. Despite his fantastic main theme, Arnim strives for historical accuracy of detail and may well have set the trend, growing especially in the second half of the century, toward greater historical objectivity regarding the Anabaptists.

As a result of the 19th-century interest in historical fiction, five historical novels on the Münsterites, all distinctly inferior from a literary point of view, appeared in the first half of the century. Van der Velde's Die Wiedertäufer (1821; Leipzig, 1851) is a superficial bit of entertainment literature. Under the influence of the English Romanticist Walter Scott, Karl Spindler, in Der König von Zion (1834; Stuttgart, 1854), the novel which more than any other awakened the interest of the Germans in the Münster episode, attempts to view the characters of his story in the light of their historical situation. He does not really succeed, however, since he considers all Münsterites to be either evil or insane and has no insight into the tensions of the Reformation reflected in Münster. Adolf Görling, in Die Wiedertäufer, attempts to give a picture of the entire Reformation. The fifth work is J. D. Mallmann's Johann von Leyden, Eine Geschichte fürs Volk (1844). Meyerbeer's opera, Le Prophète (1845), in which Jan of Leyden, the hero, is praised and his failure blamed on "the times," strongly affected the German attitude toward the Münsterites in its German translation (1846). The text of the opera was by Scribe.

Five works on Münster appeared in the third quarter of the 19th century. In 1854 Adolf Mützelburg published (at Berlin) Der Prophet, a novel of 1,100 pages based to a large extent on Spindler's work. Johann von Leyden (Münster, 1855) by Heinrich Brinckmann is a meaningless drama in blank verse. In his long and once popular poem, Der König von Zion (Hamburg, 1868), Robert Hamerling, an active promoter of German democracy, makes Leyden a representative of modern social problems, a champion of freedom. The influence of Hebbel is shown in Ernst Mevert's drama, Der König von Münster (Hamburg, 1869), in that Leyden's downfall is attributed to the fact that he is not in line with the "general laws of events in the world." Mevert is the first to exploit to any real extent the tragic potential in Münster, and Hugo Hermsen considers his to be the best of the 19th-century dramas on the Anabaptists. Ludwig Schneegans, in Jan Bockhold (Munich, 1877), sees Leyden as an emotionally sick man. Also in 1877 (Bielefeld and Leipzig) Rudolf Weber published an exceedingly poor historical novel, Die Wiedertäufer von Münster, borrowed mostly from Mützelburg.

During the last quarter of the century, the Münsterites receive only programmatic treatment. Herman Tiemann's novel, Die Wiedertäufer in Münster (Braunschweig, 1892), is a Victorian warning to the German people not to abandon the traditional virtues. Tiemann tried to interpret Jan of Leyden psychologically, but he could not comprehend the spirit of the Reformation and succeeded only in comparing him with enthusiasts of his own time. The politically fraught atmosphere of the era in which he wrote is evident in his attempt to make the naive Münsterites represent sophisticated political ideas, an attempt which of course fails. Victor Hardung's drama, Die Wiedertäufer in Münster (Glarus, 1895), is a naturalistic picture of "the baseness of the great human rabble" (die Niederträchtigkeit des grossen menschlichen Gesindels), paradoxically in verse, which is completely unsuccessful in its attempt to create in Jan a tragic hero. Hardung calls his characters "cattle" (Viecher). Two equally unsuccessful works were written by A. J. Cüppers: a drama, Der König von Sion (Berlin, 1900), so weak from both dramatic and psychological standpoints that it was never performed, and a historical novel, Im Banne der Wiedertäufer (Berlin, 1892).

The first half of the 20th century produced a remarkable number of works, both novels and dramas, using the Münster theme. The first was Hans Hartmann's drama, Von Krone und Ehre (Strasbourg, n.d.—1914). In 1915 Wilhelm Schmidtbonn, depressed because of the war, wrote his rather raw drama on Münster, entitled Die Stadt der Besessenen. Jan Freimark's novel, Johann von Leiden (Berlin, 1919), is worthy only of mention. Das Tausendjährige Reich by Hermann Rehm (Rothenfelde, 1925) is a revision of Spindler's novel. In 1935 Bernhard Kellermann wrote a drama on Münster, Die Wiedertäufer (Berlin), which is fairly similar to Schmidtbonn's, His interest in the Anabaptists, however, comes from a rather romantic fascination with the long ago and the far way, coupled with an interest in social problems. Der König im Käfig by Ludwig Webmann (Münster, 1935) is a short novel of no consequence. Although it was published with the help of societies interested in Westphalian history and culture, it exploits the sensational, is designed to paint the Münster episode in the darkest colors possible, and is little more than an adventure story. The following lesser novels should also be noted: Hugo Strauch, Die tolle Stadt 1926; Eugen von Sass, Johann von Leiden (Dresden, 1930); Josef von Lauff, Elisabeth Wandscherer, die Königin, Scherenschnitt aus der Geschichte der Wiedertäufer (Leipzig, 1931); Anna von Krane, Die Verfehmten. Roman aus der Wiedertäuferzeit (Köln, 1935); and Kathe Lübbert-Griese, Der Teufel in Münster (Berlin, 1937). Gerhard Hauptmann's intended novel, Die Wiedertäufer, begun in February 1916, remained a fragment of 25 pages, which was published in the Gerhard Hauptmann Jahrbuch I (Breslau, 1936).

After World War II, three noted authors, Friedrich Dürrenmatt (Swiss), Franz Theodor Csokor (Austrian), and Helmut Paulus (German), wrote major works on the Münsterites. Durrenmatt, a young Zürich dramatist, won much acclaim, especially among students, for his experimental dramatic techniques. At its premiere in Zürich Es steht geschrieben (1947), his drama on Münster, which is quite daring technically, was greeted with excitement mingled with catcalls. It combines admiration for the firm faith of the Münsterites and their obedience to it under stress with the realization that this faith was also immeasurably dangerous to its adherents. Dürrenmatt's drama is original in idea as well as in technique. The Austrian Franz Theodor Csokor gained recognition both as a novelist and as a dramatist. His novel on the Münsterites, Der Schlüssel zum Abgrund (1955), is a serious effort to see the Münster episode as an expression of the turmoil of the Reformation and thus to understand the Reformation itself more fully. However, in spite of moments of insight and artistic power, it is disturbing in its unconvincing exploitation of some of the more sensational tales that have grown up concerning Münster. Helmut Paulus, although not strikingly original in technique or idea, is a master storyteller and a popular author. The motif of his work is didactic; his most common theme is that only a life for others is fruitful. This is the import of Die tönernen Füsse (1954), his novel on the tragic disillusionment caused by the selfishness of Jan of Leyden.

In 1937 Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, a physician who was a member of the East Prussian aristocracy and who suffered spiritually under the Nazi regime, published a biography of Jan of Leyden which he entitled BockelsonGeschichte eines Massenwahns (Berlin), and which was intended as a warning to the Germans against the mass hysteria under Hitler. During the war his book was passed from hand to hand in the underground. Reck-Malleczewen himself was executed at Dachau in 1945. His book was republished in 1946, with additional material including a biography by his wife and an introduction by Paul Zöckler. In 1948 Erich Müller-Gangloff, a friend of Reck-Malleczewen, later the director of one of the institutes known as Evangelische Academien in Germany, published a series of sketches of tyrants under the title, Vorläufer des Anti-Christ, which he dedicated to his martyred friend. He includes members of the violent wing of the Anabaptists, especially Beuckelszoon, whose portrait he bases on that of Malleczewen; and he calls the Anabaptists the "Rattenfänger der Reformation." His attempt to find a recurring pattern among tyrants which might aid in an understanding of Hitler is interesting, but his treatment of the Anabaptists is seriously in error. He is unable to distinguish between genuine and spurious Anabaptism, and he maintains that Jan of Leyden denied his position under torture at the end. Following is a typical sentence from his book: "Die Täuferbewegung war ja von vornherein eine weit über die Stadt Münster hinaus verbreitete Erscheinung, die in vielen Landschaften des damaligen Reiches unter der Oberfläche gärte, und explosionsartige Ausbrüche ähnlich dem des Bauernkrieges erwarten liess" (96). -- MEB.

France

In France the Mennonites were practically unknown; hence they are rarely mentioned in French literature, and then only as Anabaptists. In addition to Marquis de Pezay, Michiels, and Grandidier, who are discussed in the article Alsace, Emile Erckmann (d. 1889) and Alexandre Chatrian (d. 1890) used Mennonite subjects. In several novels which they wrote conjointly, especially in L'Ami Fritz, the Mennonites receive mention, though of a superficial kind. They are presented as honest people whose word is reliable; their farms are described as exemplary; there is occasional reference to peculiarity in dress and doctrine.

There are also some essays in travel literature, almanacs, and yearbooks which mention them very favorably. Some of these are Une excursion dans les vosges by A. Benoit (Nancy, 1860) and Turquestein by H. Lepage (Nancy, 1886). Benoit writes of the Mennonites in the White Saar, "They are traditions rather than people. Their meetings held in this house or that in the valley show the severity of their principles. Listen to these psalms and songs in the German language, these sermons, as long as they are monotonous; look at these attentive faces, these serious rites, in which the body of Christ is represented by a loaf of bread which is broken into small strips, and the blood by wine in a plain pitcher; observe the complete absence of church decoration, of all religious show, and tell me whether there is not something great and noble in such a religion, whose adherents have been so hard hit by fate, but who have preserved their old principles as a precious possession in their unshakable entirety."

Voltaire (d. 1778) in his novel Candide (1759) takes his hero through all sorts of incredible adventures around the world. In Holland he meets an Anabaptist, "a man who has not been baptized, a good Anabaptist named Jacques." This "best man in the world" is interested in all the unfortunate and is positively opposed to all violence. He comes to a sudden end in trying to save the life of a man who has previously without any cause given him a terrible beating. -- PSo, HSB

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Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, 1937-1957

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Germany: The Münster Theme

Hermsen, Hugo. Die Wiedertäufer zu Münster in der deutschen Dichtung. Stuttgart, 1913, 161 pp. Containing a complete list of all titles published, with bibliographical data.

Rauch, Wilhelm. Johann van Leyden, der König von Sion, in der deutschen Dichtung. (Borna-Leipzig, 1912, 129 pp.

France

G. Meyerbeer's opera Le Prophète, using the Münster theme, appeared in Paris in 1845.

J. B. Muller, a preacher in the Mennonite congregation at Toul, published numerous short stories of religious character in Christ Seul, the French Mennonite organ.


Author(s) Otto Schowalter
Mary Eleanor Bender
Pierre Sommer
Harold S. Bender
Date Published 1956



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Schowalter, Otto, Mary Eleanor Bender, Pierre Sommer and Harold S. Bender. "Literature, Mennonites in -- Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France (To 1950s)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 30 Sep 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Literature,_Mennonites_in_--_Germany,_Austria,_Switzerland,_and_France_(To_1950s)&oldid=121222.

APA style

Schowalter, Otto, Mary Eleanor Bender, Pierre Sommer and Harold S. Bender. (1956). Literature, Mennonites in -- Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France (To 1950s). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 September 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Literature,_Mennonites_in_--_Germany,_Austria,_Switzerland,_and_France_(To_1950s)&oldid=121222.




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Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 360-369; vol. 4, p. 1146. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.


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