Sobotište (Trnavský kraj, Slovakia)

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Sobotište (Sobotiste; German, Freischütz; in Hutterite sources Sabatisch), a town in Senica District in the Trnava Region of western Slovakia near the Moravian border (coordinates: 48° 44′ 30″ N, 17° 24′ 20″ E). Sobotište is the site of a large Hutterite Bruderhof that is still inhabited by descendants of the Hutterites, the only Bruderhof which continued in existence throughout the entire period of Hutterite history in Central Europe (1546-1762). In the 16th century this market village belonged to the manorial nobleman Franz Niary of Bedek, lord of the castle of Branc (in the Chronicle Bränisch). Since he needed good tillers of the soil and tenders of the vineyards he invited the Hutterites from nearby Moravia to settle on his estate in 1546. Soon times of great hardship set in (see Slovakia), but in 1554-1605 the peace was not disturbed. Then followed a Turkish invasion, and it was not until 1613 that the brethren began anew to build a Bruderhof. From then on until today this Bruderhof has existed nearly unchanged. All the Vorsteher or "bishops" of the Hutterite brotherhood lived here, including particularly Andreas Ehrenpreis. The lords gave the brethren a charter of privileges (Hausbrief) in 1613 and another in 1640 (see Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 128 n); the latter is still in the possession of the Hof and was reported in 1937 and 1938. In 1621, Franz Walter started an exodus of some 180 Brethren from here in Transylvania (see Alwinz). The best time was the Ehrenpreis period, 1630-1662, which might be called the high point of the Sobotište congregation.

In 1665 a marked decline set in. A delegation was sent to the Mennonites in the Netherlands for material help, but even though this was granted it could not stop the rapid deterioration of the Sobotište group, both economically and spiritually. Eventually the practice of complete community of goods was given up, although many elements of it still remained. The 18th century saw the coming of the Jesuits and with it a real crisis set in. The brotherhood was no longer strong enough to resist the aggressive manipulations of both the Jesuits and the governmental authorities (details in Beck, Geschichts-Bücher, and in the Klein-Geschichtsbuch). The last Vorsteher was Zacharias Walther, a descendant of the oldest still living Anabaptist family (see Walter family). In his days the congregation numbered about 220 souls, and in 1753 they built a clock tower (Beck, 574; a picture of it in Friedmann, Habaner) and in 1754 a "Bet-Haus" (that is, a meetinghouse; picture in Lydia Müller). Beck found records of these years showing that Hutterite, or more correctly now Habaner, midwives were very popular and much in demand with the local population. In 1748 and again in 1752, Walther wrote to the Mennonites in Amsterdam, apparently hoping again to receive both material and moral support in the hard struggle of the time. (All the correspondence both of 1665 and of 1748 and 1752 is found in the archives of the Mennonite Church of Amsterdam.) But in 1761 the Jesuits decided to act: a number of brethren were taken into custody, including Zacharias Walther, who was sent into a monastery in Budapest where eventually he yielded and became Catholic in 1763, Heinrich Kuhn who turned Catholic in 1762, and Tobias Pullman (or Polman) who did the same in 1763 in the city of Neutra (Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 238, note; Beck 606, 610, 613, 617).

These conversions, however, were of little value. Privately these Sobotište people continued in their old Hutterite faith as far as possible (infant baptism was obligatory now), and thus much hypocrisy developed. The brethren knew of course of the new settlements in the Ukraine which had been started by the Transylvanian group, and there was much discussion about whether or not to leave everything behind and try to join these brethren. One of the strongest in character among the men of Sobotište was a Jacob Walter, of whom the Klein-Geschichtsbuch relates an interesting story. In 1782 he left Sobotište alone, and traveled via Herrnhut (the German center of the Moravian Brethren Church, to Vyshenka (Wischenka), Ukraine, where the new Bruderhof had been started circa 1770. The next year he came back in order to take his wife and child along to these brethren; one daughter had to be left behind as she had married a Catholic. With the help of several other brethren who were sent back from Russia to assist Sobotište, 11 families managed to escape the surveillance of the clergy, and some 56 souls eventually reached the new Ukraine Bruderhof, 1782-1783 (the Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 373-74, lists all their names; some of them were also from nearby Veľké Leváre). The last visit of these Vyshenka brethren in Sobotište occurred in 1795, but after 1782 no further transfers took place. Those who decided to stay in Sobotište were resigned in their new religion (Catholicism), glad that the clergy allowed them at least to continue most of their old communal institutions.

In 1937 two American Hutterite brethren visited this place, and from the unpublished diary of David Hofer we learn the following details. The Bruderhof buildings had survived essentially unchanged since 1613, consisting all in all of 39 straw-thatched houses, dominated in the distance by the ruins of the former castle of Branc. Some of the names of the inhabitants were Baumgartner, Pullmann, and Tschetterle (Ceterle, Tschetter), all well-known Hutterite names (see Hutterite Family Names). All in all there were about 40 families who still lived in this large-scale Hof or colony. All of them spoke German besides the native Slovakian. In 1937 the mill, the dye house, the inn, the wine cellars, and the woods were still held as communal property by the present-day Habaner. The mill, erected in 1739, was still working. The Chapel was still standing, but the clock and bells had been removed from the old clock tower during World War I. In the Town Hall the visitors found an old clock of their forefathers. In the cemetery most tombstones had disappeared except one of 1755, for Tobias Seidel. The once famous pottery workshop (producing the famous Habaner fayence; see Ceramics) no longer existed, but some people had started digging and had found in the ground potsherds and a few fine specimens of this lost art. (Most of the Habaner fayence that has survived is found in museums in Bratislava, Budapest, and elsewhere.) In the houses and in the Town Hall the visitors found ancient heavy oak tables of Hutterite origin and other household goods, even old books. The charter of 1640 (Hausbrief) was likewise shown to the guests from America, who were received with warm hospitality by these Catholic Habaner. But, naturally, they showed little interest in their own history and the tradition of a time long gone by. Nothing of the old things described was for sale, hard as the American brethren tried to buy a few souvenirs.

In 1945 in the wave of anti-German feeling following the war, most of the German-speaking people were expelled from Czechoslovakia, and it must be assumed that this fate also hit most of the Habaner of Sobotište, unless they declared themselves openly as Slovaks.


Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967.

Friedmann, Robert. Die Habaner in der Slowakei. Wiener Zeitschrift für Volkskunde, 1927.

Friedmann, Robert. "Hutterites Revisit Their Old Homesteads: the Diary of David Hofer, 1937." Mennonite Quarterly Review XXXIV (1960).

Müller, Lydia. Der Kommunismus der mahrischen Wiedertaufer. Liepzig, 1927.

Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder: Ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit. Ithaca: Cayuga Press, 1943.

Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Das Klein-Geschichtsbuch der Hutterischen Brüder. Philadelphia, PA: Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1947.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1959

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Friedmann, Robert. "Sobotište (Trnavský kraj, Slovakia)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 17 Jan 2019.,_Slovakia)&oldid=143750.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1959). Sobotište (Trnavský kraj, Slovakia). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 January 2019, from,_Slovakia)&oldid=143750.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 557-558. All rights reserved.

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