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Die Hutterer (The Hutterites) Prisoners of the Past, Pilgrims of the Present, Prophets of the Future

Book review by Paul A. and Esther M. Bierwagen, Valparaiso, Indiana

Längin, Bernd G. Die Hutterer (The Hutterites) Prisoners of the Past, Pilgrims of the Present, Prophets of the Futrure. Germany: Der Goldman Verlag, 1991.


In this book the author has presented a fascinating and inspiring account of the history of the followers of Jacob Hutter who, for 450 years, endured and suffered persecution because they would not compromise their religious beliefs. Their firm faith in God and His promises of a better life in the hereafter if they obeyed His commandments was the driving force of their lives. They chose ridicule and contempt and even death rather than conform to the beliefs of their persecutors.

In the 16th century this group of staunch followers of Jacob Hutter, mainly from South Germany, the Tyrol in Switzerland, and from parts of Austria, wandered from place to place in Europe in search of a home where they could worship God and pursue their lives without persecution. Wherever they went they met ridicule and persecution.

A mass migration to North America took place in 1874. On the high plains of northern United States and southern Canada about 30,000 Hutterites now live in 300 colonies. In these Christian kibbutz-like colonies, located in various parts of Canada, the Dakotas, Kansas and California, they live apart from the world. They view the ideal lifestyle as participating in communal possession of land and goods.

To this day, the Hutterites literally follow, to the letter, the rules of living as laid down by their leader in the 16th century.

They retained the German language of the 16th century as the language of the church, which is also taught in their school. It is a strange mixture of Swabian-Tyrolean dialects, interlaced with borrowed words from the various areas in which they settled in their wanderings about Europe.

The Hutterites are listed in the history of art for their Habaner ceramics as their artistic specialty.

They consider television, radio and musical instruments as too worldly, detracting members of their faith from performing the will of God.

The colonies maintain their own school systems, using the German language and its Gothic script. The male teachers who staff the schools are strict disciplinarians at all times, including lunch hour and all free time during the school day.

They oppose the use of firearms in obedience to their oath based on the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” They are conscientious objectors to military service and refuse to accept a position working for the government.
The Hutterites view this world as a "vale of tears" through which they are doomed to pass before reaching a happier hereafter.

This convenient pocket-size book has an appendix with a chronology, tracing the history of the Hutterites from 1520 to 1985, prayers in various dialects, the Ten Commandments, and helpful maps tracing their wanderings from 1535 to 1874. It is enhanced with pictures depicting interesting scenes of their schools, present day farm machinery, as well as many other phases of their lifestyle.

The author, Bernd G. Längin, lives in Canada near several Hutterite colonies and is well acquainted with their lifestyle. He had the opportunity to travel to Europe in 1984 with several of their spiritual leaders to visit the original places of settlement of their people in South Germany, Tyrol, Switzerland, and various places in Austria. Mr. Längin was a foreign correspondent, and as such he visited Asia and Africa and served as editor-in-chief of the Globus. The German-Canadian author has received highest honors as a journalist and is well qualified to carry out the research required to write the history of the Hutterites.

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