Eberhard Arnold and National Socialism

Avoiding covert resistance on the one hand and complicity and compromise on the other, Eberhard Arnold guided his community in the face of Nazi threats. They continued to witness to the kingdom of God in Nazi Germany until their expulsion after his death.

“It is inherent in imitatio, in being Christlike, that we are ready for imprisonment and death,” Eberhard Arnold told members of the Rhön Bruderhof in March 1933. It was two days after Adolf Hitler’s address to the Reichstag and granting himself complete power, the moment Germany passed the point of no return to become a Nazi dictatorship. Eberhard spoke to his community about the challenges National Socialism would create for them as a result of their commitment to Jesus’ way of peace. Indeed, the fate of the entire Bruderhof in the years 1933–1937 serves as an example of Christian resistance and witness in this era of state violence.

The pacifism of the early Anabaptist movement was a core principle of the Bruderhof's identity. This meant that they distanced themselves from the very beginning from the regime, which quickly revealed its brutal, violent nature. The community members were also firmly opposed to the National Socialist racial principals. The Bruderhof thus stood in decisive opposition to National Socialist ideologies and expressed this antagonism in clear terms.

This resulted in a political confrontation that continued after Eberhard’s death in 1935. The entire period between 1933 and 1937 was characterized by suspicions that the Rhön Bruderhof was a communist association. This suspicion put the community in the crosshairs of state surveillance from the very beginning. There were raids by the SS and SA, the permit for the community’s school was withdrawn, and young men of military draft age had to leave the country to avoid conscription. Finally, the Rhön Bruderhof was dissolved by the German government and its members were expelled from Germany.

Adapted from Markus Baum, Against the Wind: Eberhard Arnold and the Bruderhof (Walden, NY: Plough, 2015) and an unpublished translation of Thomas Nauerth, Zeugnis, Liebe und Widerstand: Der Rhönbruderhof 1933-1937 (Paderborn, Germany: Ferdinand Schoeningh, 2017).