The Bruderhof and the State

John Huleatt
John Huleatt is the General Counsel for the Bruderhof, an international Christian community movement. Along with being a board member of Becket Law—a public interest law firm that defends religious freedom for all faiths—John also teaches First Amendment at the Mount Academy in New York and serves on the board of The Boys & Girls Club of Ulster County. He is a member and lives at the Woodcrest Community in Rifton, New York, together with his wife, Nina, and their five children.

November 1933, Hesse, Germany. The Bruderhof, a community of about 125 men, women, and children recently established on a farm in the Rhön Mountains, had just learned of a new mandate from the National Socialist government: all citizens must vote in a referendum to demonstrate approval of the regime. The Bruderhof was warned by government officials that nonparticipation could mean imprisonment in one of the “concentration camps” the ten-month-old Reich had established for its enemies.

The ballot asked, “Do you … approve the policy of your Reich government, and are you ready to affirm and solemnly pledge yourself to this policy as the expression of your own conviction and will?” After prayer and discussion, members decided that instead of checking yes or no, they would each write out a statement:

My conviction and my will bid me stand by the gospel and for the discipleship of Jesus Christ, the coming kingdom of God, and the love and unity of his church. That is the one and only calling God has given me as mine. In this faith I intercede before God and humankind for my people and their fatherland and in particular for their imperial government with its different calling, given by God, not to me but to my beloved rulers Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler.

The newspaper reported these votes in the “yes” count. But five days later, the little community found itself surrounded by over one hundred and forty armed SS and Gestapo.

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